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Michael Fassbender flick is a slow-burning epic - The Irish News
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Arts

Michael Fassbender flick is a slow-burning epic

Michael Fassbender has had a glittering career to date but always wanted to star in a western – now, in Slow West, he gets his chance. Brian Campbell saddles up to see if Scottish director John Maclean's feature debut is worth a shot

Michael Fassbender in Slow West

SLOW WEST (15, 83 mins)

Drama. Kodi Smit-McPhee, Michael Fassbender, Ben Mendelsohn, Caren Pistorius, Rory McCann, Kalani Queypo, Brooke Williams

Director: John Maclean

RATING: FOUR STARS

JUST over a year after he was Oscar-nominated for a film set in mid-19th century America (12 Years A Slave), Michael Fassbender pops up in another one.

Slow West is set in 1870 as Silas (Fassbender) saddles up and heads to the American west as chaperone to 16-year-old Scot Jay (Kodi Smit-McPhee). The film is a fantastic feature debut from John Maclean, himself a Scot, and sees him channel the Coen brothers in what is a captivating and darkly comic western.

Jay has ventured “from the cold shoulder of Scotland to the baking heart of America” in search of Rose (Caren Pistorius), the object of his affection. She has fled to America with her father John (Rory McCann – Game of Thrones, The Book Group) and both are wanted, dead or alive, for murder.

When Silas encounters the innocent Jay he tells the teenager that he needs chaperone-ing, "and I’m a chaperone". For a fee, Silas leads the lovestruck adventurer west, and – as you would expect – their journey doesn’t proceed without incident.

They run into Native Americans in a supposedly haunted forest, an armed robbery, a German explorer, floods and a gang of bounty hunters led by Payne, played by the brilliant Ben Mendelsohn (Animal Kingdom, The Dark Knight Rises).

Silas is of Irish extraction, telling Jay that his father is in the ground in Ireland and his mother is in the ground in Canada.

Aussie actor McPhee (The Road, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) employs a convincing Scottish accent, sounding a lot like Andy Murray. Silas is a quiet man and something of a cynic but he sees that Jay is full of hope and sees the good in people and so Silas himself starts to lighten up. Jay, in turn, slowly warms to the travelling companion he initially thought “a brute”.

Fassbender and Mendelsohn are reliably good, McPhee and Pistorius are great and the film features some truly amazing scenery (it was shot in New Zealand).

At one point Silas is ready to hit the trail west again and says to Jay, “Let’s drift”. The film itself seemed in danger of drifting slightly as the pair make their slow progress to find Rose, but the last action-packed 20 minutes are sensationally good and will have you on the edge of your seat.

The score by Australian musician Jed Kurzel is excellent. Director John Maclean was previously a member of indie act The Beta Band, famously name-checked in the 2000 John Cusack film High Fidelity.

Maclean had previously worked with Fassbender on the shorts Man On A Motorcycle (2009) and Pitch Black Heist (2011), with the latter co-starring Liam Cunningham and winning a Bafta for best short film.

Irish cinematographer Robbie Ryan also deserves praise for his sterling work on Slow West, while another Irishman in the cast – playing a minstrel – is Bryan Mills, who used to the bass player in The Divine Comedy with Neil Hannon.

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