Yesterday, Simon Pegg was maligned by quite a few people online when talking about Paramount wanting STAR TREK to be less STAR TREK-y, then when on to say the solution was “to make a western or a thriller or a heist movie” in the clothing of a STAR TREK film. When Simon says “Too Star Trek-y” - what could that mean? It could mean, Orci (Super Trek Geek) might’ve had the script be too self-referential to the already established STAR TREK universe, meaning stuff like Federation politics, Alien relations… essentially, what STAR TREK films since STAR TREK II - which always seemed caught up with either a continuing story - or enormous threats to STAR FLEET.
Meanwhile, when Simon says “western or a thriller or a heist movie” - he’s talking about what the original STAR TREK did - actually what the show did on a weekly basis that was so awesome, which was Roddenberry & team exploring many different genres episode to episode. Hell the show was pitched as WAGON TRAIN in SPACE… AND - if you’re a real film geek, which means you embrace all styles and genres of cinema… then you know the amazing value of WESTERNS.
I know, weird introduction for SLOW WEST, the new Western starring Michael Fassbender, Kodi Smit-McPhee as a pair of unlikely companions traveling out West in each other’s company. FIRST and foremost, this is a terrific Western and a fantastic feature film.
We’ve seen this sort of story before, two people of extreme age and background differences on a mission to get somewhere. In this case, Kodi Smit-McPhee’s young Jay Cavendish, he’s on a mission to reunite with the woman he loves, Rose Ross, played by the tough & beautiful Caren Pistorius. She is the apple of Jay’s eye. The reason this sixteen year old has decided to leave his homeland for America, to travel alone into the great American West as it was being carved out.
We don’t quite know all that when we meet him, in fact… at first he meets an Indian running through the woods, then what appears to be 3 soldiers pursuing the Indian. One stays to watch him, while the other two continue after the Indian. That’s when Michael Fassbender shows up. He quickly disposes of the “officer” watching young Jay, robs the officer’s body, makes a deal with the boy to take him where he needs to go for $50 upfront and another $50 upon arrival. Of course, this is 1800s America, so that’s actually an amazing sum. BUT, having a “Brute,” as Jay refers to Fassbender’s Silas Selleck, on your side in the West could be advantageous.
That’s essentially the opening setup for the film. Jay is an educated young man, a romantic, believing in the inherent nobility of people. Meaning… he’s trusting, young & naive… but also a beautiful spirit. He does what must be done, but he was born to be taken advantage of.
Meanwhile, Fassbender’s Silas… he’s a man of mystery, few words. At first, you’ll probably wonder why he doesn’t just kill the kid. I mean, that the kid whips out $50 to pay him, while guarding his wallet, probably means he’s got more - and we just saw Silas kill a man over his coin purse. However, we do know that that “Officer” was perhaps only an officer in the clothes he was wearing, but was in actuality an Indian Hunter. This is the West, where every Indian Scalp you brought in would garner you a reward. That’s not really gone into in depth, but if you know your American West history… you’re well aware of the greater evils that were done in the name of this great nation. Silas is a rough man, but he also doesn’t have a scar on him that we can see. If he’s bad, he’s great at it - but there does seem to be an ulterior motive for him helping his young traveler. He does have a curious inquisitive nature in regards to the woman and the father that Jay is traveling towards and more will come of that later in the story.
The first real violent encounter these two have is at a Trading Post, but the violence there is neither of our two travelers’ fault. It just unfolds as they’re trying to have a sit-down meal. A rare delicacy when traveling out West, and that Silas is cherishing this speaks to the man’s character. The scene that plays out there - and the decisions these two make here… well, they tell us a lot about the West.
As a society these days, we seem to rush to judge peoples of different eras with the moral “high ground” that we like to pretend we stand upon. However, in an era where everyone had guns and motivations to use them both noble and malevolent… well, you might be asked upon to do some really loathsome acts. These two face them only as their own survival would dictate. Much like the violence in GAME OF THRONES, it is violence of necessity and opportunity. LUCK seems to have a hand in things.
One of my favorite early scenes in the film is as our two travelers are riding West, they come across a trio of Congolese Singers singing in the middle of nowhere. It’s a surreal moment in the film, and due to the Congo being ruled by the French, and Jay’s education, there’s a brief exchange of civilized respect for the artistry of these three - that I found quite endearing. I really do like this Jay kid. I can see why Silas let him live.
I don’t want to get heavy into spoilers, but suffice to say there are twists and turns that would make some Noirs blush at the backstabs ahead of these characters - along with the dangers of traveling low-lifes and bounty hunters, etc.
Beware everyone that’s sweet to you. Never sleep when traveling West, bad shit seems to always happen by the time you wake up and find yourself fucked utterly. There’s a trail of dead bodies left behind in this story - and a new path awaiting those that survive.
I never found the story boring, but it did move purposefully from adventure to adventure on this trail in pursuit of True Love or rich rewards! There’s some moderate bits of humor, but really - this is a story about just how slow going it was in these times. The value of company.
I’ve traveled all over the United States and the World in my life - and I have to say, I glad I travel in the time and place in history that we’re living in, because man… it is true that each and everyone of us can meet our maker just going to a convenience store or crossing a street or taking a shower. But despite the media’s constant insistence on the travesties of the day… Life feels mostly civilized.
I mean, you’re usually not finding yourself robbed of every possession and facing a deserted landscape to wander aimlessly in until you die. But hey, that’s why it feels good to live in a future where this is a story you can snack while watching.
NOW - would this film make a good STAR TREK, there are aspects and parallels that I could draw to CITY ON THE EDGE OF FOREVER and naturally something like SPECTRE OF THE GUN comes up (That doesn’t feature Bond Villains btw).
Both Fassbender and Kodi are outstanding actors in this film, and many of the character actors and faces they’ve cast in this film about the American West shot in New Zealand - well, they’re great! There’s a campfire scene that an intoxicated young Jay wanders into that is filled with great dubious characters - and I loved that sequence as well.
As for the ending. Don’t read too much about the film. A quick look at ROTTEN TOMATOES will give you the confidence to check this out. 91% of critics really dig it. The audience rating is a bit lower, but I think that comes from folks that went in hoping for an ACTION WESTERN. Personally, I love how the action that happens in this film plays out, but this isn’t a showy action Western. It’s a Western that makes deadly exchanges make changes in the characters that live through them.
The film is currently in limited release, but you can also rent or own it via AMAZON right now! Give it a shot!