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Meek's Cutoff


Stars: Bruce Greenwood, Michelle Williams, Will Patton, Paul Dano, Shirley Henderson, Zoe Kazan, Neal Huff, Tommy Nelson, Ron Rondeaux

Director: Kelly Reichardt

Director Kelly Reichardt has been hailed as an American indie auteur on the strength of such relatively little-seen films as Wendy and Lucy and Old Joy. Fortunately for her, I imagine so few people will actually see this numbingly dull ‘Western’ that Meek’s Cutoff will not disrupt her status among cineastes.

It’s rare for the production notes supplied to reviewers to be more interesting than the film. In this case, however, I was entertained and fascinated after reading about the extraordinary care and devotion involved in ensuring the historical accuracy of the costumes and props of the slower-than-a-crippled-snail show that I’d fought sleep to keep watching until its let-down ending. But since luckless moviegoers don’t have the solace of production notes, they are stuck with watching mountain man Greenwood lead his wagon train across the sun-dried Oregon landscape in 1845, the earliest days of the Oregon Trail, only to become lost. With it, the three families lose faith in Greenwood, suffer hardships in the grim landscape, cannot find water. Then they meet a ‘Native American’…

I hope I haven’t made the story seem interesting. It isn’t. Evocative cinematography (Christopher Blauvelt) and historical accuracy are no substitutes for holding drama (screenplay courtesy of Jon Raymond). Calling Meek’s Cutoff tedious is high praise. The cast, led by Williams, Greenwood, Patton, Dano and Henderson, wear their weatherworn costumes with more conviction than they speak their lines. Realism is impressive - but not necessarily entertaining.

Ironically, the production notes sum up the film better than I can by quoting one Charles Baxter from “Stillness’ “Burning Down the House: Essays on Fiction” with “A West of silences, in which the openness is an invitation not to action, but to what I have been calling here a trance condition”. Nicely put, Charles.

Alan Frank

USA 2010. UK Distributor: Soda Pictures. Colour.
104 minutes. Not widescreen. UK certificate: PG.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 14 Apr 2011