Sydney Film Festival Reviewed
We reviewed some of the most buzzed films at this year's festival, including 'Dope', 'Ruben Guthrie', 'Gayby Baby' and 'Holding The Man'. Many were excellent. Some were not.
The Film That Will Make You Want To Quit Capitalism And Live In A Valley:
Slow West, dir. John McClean
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Kodi Smit McPhee, Caren Pistorious, Ben Mendelsohn
Reviewed by: Lauren Carroll Harris
The Western genre has undergone another revolution, and a killer one at that. Where the genre was once about conquest and civilisation, Slow West is a picture of loneliness and futility: it hijacks the Western genre to destroy its myths. It’s also a love story that’s as marred as those old Western fantasies: an innocent teen (Kodi Smit McPhee) is chaperoned by a shifty outlaw (Michael Fassbender) as he seeks his lost love (Caren Pistorious) in a vicious new continent.
Cinema has too often depicted a rather shrunken view of history that begins with colonialism, but writer-director John McClean shows that the Western can be an ideal genre in which to understand the eviction of North America’s Aboriginal peoples. The New World was not so new, and a cast of secondary characters give fascinating glimpses of a nation-in-making: a European anthropologist lamenting Indigenous extermination; a pastor who’s not beyond a bit of bounty-hunting; and naturally Ben Mendelsohn shows up as an endearingly menacing sociopath. But this is not a white man’s film. There are some fierce Indigenous and female characters who are neither inherently tragic or awaiting rescue; rather, they’re instrumental in the narrative development and resolution.
Slow West continues the Western’s visual convention of wide cinematography — it’s a landscape film — and extends it with chopped extreme close-ups during the shoot-em-up action scenes. It’s amazing how suspense can be sustained with slow editing and a bare, orchestral score by Australia’s Jed Kurzel, and how funny a serious film can be.
It’s slow to start and not as stunning as other neo-Westerns, like The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (by Chopper director Andrew Dominik), the proto-feminist Meek’s Cutoff (by Kelly Reichardt), or Terrence Malick’s devastating take on North American invasion, The New World, from the real Pocahontas’ viewpoint. But Slow West utilises a massive arsenal of cinematic techniques shunned by most commercial filmmakers, and shows that an arthouse film can hold both tension and big ideas at once.
For fans of: Unusual action films, extreme Michael Fassbender sexiness, the untamed wild, the destruction of the American dream, general myth-busting
Opening in Australia: In cinemas now
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