Led by Stephen Meek (Bruce Greenwood) the families are soon lost and start to mistrust each other and their guide. After, days of wandering in the inhospitable landscape and becoming more disorientated, a Native American crosses their path. The group must decide if they can trust this man to lead them to water or a more sinister fate.
- Meek's Cutoff review by Count Otto Black
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You rated this film: 2
This well-made, well-acted, extremely atmospheric film has one slight flaw. Nothing happens. Literally nothing. Well, not quite nothing. There's some squabbling, a punch or two is thrown, and at one point it even looks as if somebody might actually be shot! But of course they aren't. And everyone talks quite a bit, when they're not too weakened by thirst, hunger and exhaustion to feel like saying anything. The movie is summed up by a scene in which the travelers stumble across a vein of gold so rich there are nuggets strewn all over the ground. They gaze at this vast wealth with dull apathy and, because by this point water is all they care about, they can't even be bothered to pick it up. The viewer may by this stage in the movie be experiencing similar emotions.
You might expect a film like this to begin with the brave, determined settlers starting out on their journey full of optimism, and gradually becoming disillusioned as the going gets tougher. You know, like every other wagon-train western ever. Not this one. Meek, the stereotypical grizzled old guide, has led them a long way down what he claims is a secret shortcut only he knows about before the film even starts, so by the time we meet them they're already getting tired, irritable and hard to like, and they already don't trust Meek, who consequently has so little to do that he might as well not be in the movie.
An Indian is captured. They're beastly to him because they fear an Indian attack, but of course no other Indians show up, and the one they've caught spends a lot of time tied up saying nothing because he doesn't speak English. One of the girls is vaguely attracted to him. Is there an interracial romance? Nope. That would be too much like something happening. Then they decide, very reluctantly, to trust him because it's their only chance of survival. Does the action now commence? Go on, have a guess...
I gave this movie two stars because it's trying very hard. Unfortunately it's trying to do precisely the wrong thing. "The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford" also gives us a realistic Wild West with long stretches of nothing much happening, gunfights that are chaotic, panicky affairs or cowardly backshootings, and brutal, treacherous "heroes". But it's an enthralling and at times oddly beautiful film about complex, deeply flawed characters we care about even if we don't like them. This movie is just a bunch of tired, thirsty people getting ratty with each other in the middle of a drab, ugly desert in a story-arc that's had huge sections amputated from both ends so it's all middle with no setup or climax. Worthy, but oh so very, very dull.
Three married couples separate from their original wagon train and trudge with their own party on the treacherous Oregon Trailin 1845. They hire Stephen Meek (Bruce Greenwood), a bearded braggart who says he knows how to guide them to their destination. As the party forges on, food rations dwindle and water becomes scarce, and they slowly realize that Meek may be leading them blind.
Tensions rise when they capture an Indian, a stoic character that Meek depicts as a savage and will be the death of them. Such is the premise of ‘Meek’s Cutoff’, a film from Director Kelly Reichardt led by Michelle Williams as Emily Tetherow, a pioneering woman who may not have the authority but the certainty to figure things out.
‘Meek’s Cutoff’ is as meek as its title suggests but it has a loud message to impart: To travel is risky business and if you lived during the exodus of pioneers back then, it was just excruciating, miserable, and very dangerous. What those families would give to be able to find their happiness was incredibly brave but brave does not necessarily equate to smarts.
The wagon party’s situation does not bode well and for good measure – they’ve entrusted upon a con-man their lives only to be dragged along for a long ride instead of the promised shortcut. Within this travesty comes even greater threats, starvation and racism, all of which the husbands have to contend with, while their wives are kept at bay and unsolicited with their suggestions.
Director Kelly Reichardt and screenwriter Jonathan Raymond essentially created a road trip film with ‘Meek’s Cutoff’ replete with ambient and natural sound effects (wagon wheels squeaking, dust winds blowing) and extended long shots of nothing happening. The realism is both soft with the lighting yet turns harsh when reflected on its terrain of mountains, rocks, and vastness of the landscape. ‘Meek’s Cutoff’ is a capable film amazingly based on a true story.
You rated this film: 4
Melissa Orcine - Cinema Paradiso
Parental Guidance - general viewing but some scenes may be unsuitable for young children