The world of Slow West is an impressive one. It's a place where violence happens, but it's also a precise collection of colours and shapes. Like a laser-quest designed by Wes Anderson.
The action follows brooding bounty-hunter Silas Selleck (Michael Fassbender) escorting a love-lorn teen, Jay Cavendish, (Kodi Smit-McPhee) across the sun-drenched prairie to find his love. The drive is simple. In the words of The Village People, go west. Life is peaceful there.
Along the way, Silas and Jay run into a motley crew of motley crews. The film weaves together a lot of influences, and each character seems to draw in a little of their own genre. Silas Selleck has cantered in straight from the 3:10 to Yuma, while Jay Cavendish seems to inhabit a fairytale - with a suitably grim(m) ending. The expat anthropologist they meet on the road wouldn't have been out of place in a Tales Of The Unexpected, while a beautifully-paced little vignette about an outlaw who hankered after his own wanted poster would be right at home in Guy Adams' The Good, the Bad, and the Infernal.
The film achieves an awful lot in a very short time. What is lovely is that it feels as if there is no formula. While the twists and turns of the plot are foreshadowed, the lurches between genre are completely unexpected. Like a drunk aunt operating a roulette wheel on a First Great Western train - it's unpredictable. In amongst the drama and the conflict there's impeccably-timed slapstick. And the best visual pun I've seen in a film this year.
A problem that I find with the modern action genre is that there are no lulls; it's difficult to see an explosion as exciting and/or tense if explosions are about as regular as breaths. (More regular, where the sound editor's been over-zealous.) What's so brilliant about Slow West is the contrast it allows. There are scenes of frenzied shooting, yes, but these are interspersed between unsuccessful attempts to make butter, and meditative strolls through tall grass.
John Maclean (the writer-director) has a real knack for interesting juxtapositions. The hardened bounty hunter with the Scottish child by his side. The peaceful homestead and the bounty hunters. The comical and the violent.
Slow West wanders steadily towards its conclusion, but it takes time to see the sights. And what beautiful sights they are.