WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
A wagon-train of full of settlers, trying to make a home for themselves in the West, is led astray by an unreliable scout, Stephen Meek (Bruce Greenwood). The settlers are forced to rely on the help of a stray Indian, who they’re convinced knows the location of a water supply, but could be leading them into an ambush.
IS IT A GOOD MOVIE?
MEEK’S CUTOFF is a film I admired more than enjoyed. It’s based on real events that transpired on the Oregon Trail in 1845, but don’t pop in this blu-ray expecting a conventional western. There are no shootouts, no showdown, fist-fights, stampedes, chases, or anything even remotely like that/ Rather, it’s as if Andrei Tarkovski made a western, with this reminding me a lot of his post-apocalyptic film, STALKER. It follows the settlers as the wander this vast, alien (to them) territory, desperately in search of the water that will be their salvation. There’s very little dialogue, and long stretches of the film just have the settlers sitting in wagons, moving slowly over the Oregon Trail, surveying the land around them. A rip-snorting adventure this is not.
That said, if you’re at all interested in what life on the Oregon Trail was (probably) actually like, MEEK’S CUTOFF makes for an intriguing watch. Once you get past the first half-hour or so, MEEK’S CUTOFF settles into a rhythm, and the characters/ performances eventually end up being engrossing. The marginal lead here is Michelle Williams, who plays a young settler, newly married to a much older man (Will Patton), who’s more of a caring, paternal figure to her than a husband. A good chunk of the film involves her battle of wills with the unreliable, ornery Meek (a bravura performance by an unrecognizable Bruce Greenwood), which escalates once she convinces the settlers to trust the stray Indian, who, Meek believes, is leading them into an ambush.
Interestingly, director Reichardt never takes a side, as we never really know for certain who’s wrong, and who’s right. Meek, while unreliable, is not portrayed as a bad man, and in the end, he’s even a somewhat heroic figure. As for Williams, we never really get a handle on whether she’s strong, or just headstrong and arrogant, although we can’t help but sympathize due to her strong performance.
Typical for Oscilloscope, the extras are minimal, but thoughtful. There’s an interesting 10 minute documentary on the making of the film that sheds a bit of light on Reichardt’s approach. We also get a trailer , a DVD copy of the film, and a very interesting essay on the film, written by Richard Hell, which actually made me like the film more in hindsight.
I could imagine MEEK’S CUTOFF being something that will infuriate a lot of people, and the ending (or lack thereof) was a little too last episode of SOPRANOS for my tastes. That said, I’m still glad I took in MEEK’S CROSSING, and I was never tempted to turn it off, despite it trying my patience here and there. It’s a worthwhile film, and credit where credit is due, it’s beautifully shot and acted.