Meek's Cutoff (PG)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner15/04/2011

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 101 mins

Beautifully shot and impressively directed, this is a haunting, contemplative western with terrific performances from Bruce Greenwood and Michelle Williams, though Reichardt's relentlessly minimalist approach might prove hard going for some.

What's it all about?
Directed by Kelly Reichardt (Old Joy, Wendy & Lucy), Meek's Cutoff is set in 1845 and stars Bruce Greenwood (unrecognisable under an impressively grizzly beard) as Stephen Meek, a blustering, know-it-all guide who's agreed to lead three families on the Oregon trail through the Cascade Mountains. However, as the journey wears on, feisty Emily Tetherow (Michelle Williams) begins to suspect that Meek might be lost.

When Meek captures a Native American (Rod Rondeaux), half the party (including Zoe Kazan and Paul Dano as Millie and Thomas Gately) are terrified and think he should be killed before he can summon the rest of his tribe, but Emily convinces Meek to let him live, hoping that he can lead the settlers to water.

The Good
The film is beautifully shot, with Chris Blauvelt's stunning cinematography making strong use of the harsh Oregon landscapes, such as an arid plain of cracked mud and a line of oppressive cliff-tops. Reichardt's attention to period detail is extremely impressive (particularly the wind-battered bonnets worn by the women) and the sense of exhaustion is palpable throughout; she also takes a Dogme-style approach to natural lighting that is extremely unsettling.

Michelle Williams and Bruce Greenwood are terrific as Meek and Emily and there's strong support from Rod Rondeaux, though the film's minimal dialogue occasionally leaves the remaining big name actors (Dano, Patton, Henderson) feeling under-used.

The Great
The sound design is extraordinary, most notably during a scene where the men gather in long-shot to discuss their plans and we hear fragments of wind-blown dialogue as the women strain to hear their conversation. In addition, there's a haunting, dream-like quality to the central journey that invites multiple interpretations, all of which is compounded by a beautifully enigmatic final shot.

It is fair to say that those expecting a straight-up western may find Meek's Cutoff somewhat hard going, as this is very much at the arthouse end of the spectrum (think Gus Van Sant's Gerry or Reichardt's own Old Joy); as such it might be light on western-style action but there are moments here that will stay with you long after you leave the cinema.

Worth seeing?
Meek’s Cutoff is a stunningly directed, superbly acted western that's both haunting and thought-provoking. Highly recommended.

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Meek's Cutoff (PG)
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Content updated: 15/12/2017 21:28

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