Meek's Cutoff Directed by: Kelly Reichardt Cast: Michelle Williams, Bruce Greenwood, Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan, Will Patton Running Time: 1 hr 44 mins Rating: PG Release Date: May 13, 2011
PLOT: Members of a caravan journey through the Oregon desert under the guidance of a man named Meek. When they appear lost and are desperate for water, they come across a native who may or may not be leading them to uncertain danger.
WHO'S IT FOR?: Do you like your “westerns” fast paced and loaded with guns? Meek’s Cutoff probably isn’t for you. This movie is like watching a nail-biting version of the classic computer game “Oregon Trail,” sans any hunting segments. Art house film lovers, here’s your latest dosage of tense reality for the period piece.
EXPECTATIONS: My knowledge of the film was very slim, except for the fact that it stars Michelle Williams, and was directed by the same person as Wendy and Lucy (which is now on my Netflix queue).
Michelle Williams as Emily Tetherow: While her character might be designated in the story to simply being a man's wife and caretaker, Williams shows a little attitude in this role that allows her to command the screen (once again). She's thoughtful, and especially more aggressive than we may be used to seeing her. Score: 7
Bruce Greenwood as Meek: Look the wrong way, or go into Meek's Cutoff with dull ears, and you'll miss out on recognizing the usually clean-cut Bruce Greenwood in this fascinating role. His low speaking tone scratches the bottom of his voice register. And though Greenwood's character is meant to be the guide for this caravan, he prove to be just as dangerously instinctual as everyone else. Score: 7
Rest of Cast: With their dirtied faces and limited lines, no one is really a "star" here, besides maybe Greenwood's beard chameleon performance. Familiar mugs like Paul Dano and Will Patton make appearances, but their performances speak with an effective subtlety. They aren't even given a typical introduction, they're just a collective group. More often than not the film's wide wide shots are more interested in showing the landscape in a notable light than beatifying the actors. Score: 7
TALKING: Keeping to the simplicity of Meek’s Cutoff, characters speak in brief sentences, with their exchanges often limited to one line at a time. The dialogue is quite poignant, and in turn refreshingly authentic. Score: 7
SIGHTS: The amount of style allotted to the camera of Meek’s Cutoff is thrifty – it seems to use only a couple of shots to cover an entire scene – but it’s nonetheless precise. The many traveling scenes are shot with expressive close-ups to the dynamic faces of the crew (Zoe Kazan’s eyes, etc), or are covered with expansive wide shots that allow the beautiful landscape to be its own wonderful, yet mysterious character. Keeping with the thriftiness, the editing is minimal, as Meek’s Cutoff can run entire scenes with a single albeit magnetic take. Score: 8
SOUNDS: A bit like the atmospheric high tones that made a brief appearance in There Will Be Blood, Meek’s Cutoff makes a little usage of high-pitched strings that sound more like air sirens than anything else. While the presence of music is extremely slim here, Meek’s Cutoff does champion some excellent sound design, with its dedication to covering every creek of a wagon and crack of the dirt as the characters travel. Even the rushing water heard at the beginning of the film has a hypnotic sense to it. Score: 9
BEST SCENE: The moment in which the wagons are guided down the hill is, in retrospect, fairly terrifying.
ENDING: "The Indian," as his character is named, gives up and just walks away.
QUESTIONS: What’s the true story of Meek’s Cutoff? This is something I’ll have to take to Wikipedia.
REWATCHABILITY: The pacing of the movie can be a little difficult at times, so it’s not a movie I’d immediately return to without a specific purpose to study it, etc. This is, however, the type of movie you wouldn’t mind watching with a friend after having recommended it to them.
The combination of art house pacing and slow Oregon traveling makes for a good marriage with Meek's Cutoff. But the film doesn't just get lucky with its aforementioned marriage; it's also simply an overall well-crafted film of delicate performances, illustrious cinematography, grade "A" sound design, and a very pleasant minimal story. The style of this film allows its spaciousness to take the forefront, while its simplicity leaves room for the most human type of tension to grab hold of the audience. No matter how slow it takes itself to get there, (the film does indeed drag, eventually Meek's Cutoff stands as a unique type of quiet, quiet thriller with very real problems - dehydration, savage natives, and the general fear of helplessness.
FINAL SCORE: 7/10