Slow West

The title might suggest a Sam Shepard parody, but this arty western from New Zealand plays like a simplified version of Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man. In the late 19th century a young Scot (Kodi Smit-McPhee) crosses the Colorado territory in search of his lost love, who has emigrated to America after an unspecified scandal. Writer-director John Maclean insists at every opportunity that the American west teemed with brutality and that every positive myth about the region was built on a lie, yet he doesn’t deliver this familiar revisionist history with much force. The problem isn’t his weak grasp of the period but his misguided decision to adopt a fairy-tale tone that amounts to needless sugarcoating. Michael Fassbender plays a solitary gunslinger who improbably takes Smit-McPhee under his wing, and Ben Mendelsohn (Animal Kingdom) plays an eccentric villain who seems to have wandered in from a Sam Peckinpah film.