From 1996 until 2004, John Maclean was a vital member of Scottish indie/folk band The Beta Band. Releasing three studio albums in this time, the group were hailed by touring companions Radiohead and Oasis for their folk and electronic sound. Just over ten years later, Maclean has blessed us with his directorial feature debut Slow West.
First opened to audiences at the Sundance Film Festival, the film was categorised as Dramatic and awarded the Sundance Institute’s World Cinema Jury Prize.
This western drama finds Jay Cavendish (Jodi Smit-McPhee), a young Scottish teenager at the tender age of sixteen, alone in the heart of America. He soon finds himself under threat and bewildered by an ambush, but finds a saviour and riding partner in the mysterious Silas (Michael Fassbender) who offers to protect and take him wherever for a small fee. In search of Rose (Caren Pistorius), the love of his life who fled Scotland, Jay embarks on an adventure through the Wild West.
Offering so much more than a lot of other Western genre pieces, Slow West combines a love story with a revenge thriller and a coming of age tale. Maclean went into the process of making this film with clear influences; from the very first piece of dialogue to Silas chewing on an unrelenting amount of cigars, Sergio Leone’s the Man with No Name Trilogy seems to have held a lasting impact on Maclean. The tone of the film, however, takes a more modern approach, finding influence in the Coen Brothers to utilise comedic elements. Slow West knows exactly what it wants to be, forming a contemporary western from a first-time writer/director that lives up to its predecessors.
When it comes to Slow West, Maclean manages to keep himself well grounded by remembering the people that helped him get to where he is now. It’s no surprise that the star of his two previous short films, Michael Fassbender (Man on a Motorcycle and Pitch Black Heist), should appear in this feature. Fassbender puts on yet another breathtaking performance and manages to be deceptive to almost everyone in the film without a single care, all while carrying charm to his wit. His counterpart, McPhee, follows in Fassbender’s footsteps to bring a naive, but bright-eyed and loveable character to life that doesn’t quite understand all the carnage in the world but knows enough to understand that it’s what is needed as he utters the line, “Love is universal, like death”.
Showing yet another dark period of history in America, Slow West is a triumph and proves that the Western genre still has plenty of life in it, and many more tales to be told. To already have a BAFTA for Pitch Black Heist, and now his debut feature film, the future of Maclean’s career looks bright, and his shine rubs off on his cast wonderfully in this tale of one young man’s quest for love.