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Overall Rating

Awesome: 12.5%
Worth A Look43.75%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap: 0%

2 reviews, 4 user ratings

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Meek's Cutoff
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by Jay Seaver

"If you want desperation and thirst from a movie, this one's for you."
3 stars

Why don't you want to see this movie at the end of a long day? Because it is frequently boring, and seeing it in that condition will exacerbate this. Reducing it to simply that one adjective is tremendously unfair - director Kelly Reichardt and her cast take a script dangerously short on events and do beautiful work on the details, but understand - this is a movie that, for better or worse, is not enjoyed but endured.

That is, in many ways, entirely appropriate - crossing the American West to make a fresh start in California or Oregon was a trial more often than it was the exciting series of events that the word "adventure" implies. Reichardt throws us right into this, starting the movie at a point where a three-wagon train of settlers is already lost and rationing food, quietly discussing whether to hang their guide, Stephen Meek (Bruce Greenwood). When their path intersects that of a native hunter, they must decide whether to trust him or Meek. Meek, seeing his impending obsolescence, preys upon the settlers' fears.

The ethnic politics of Meek's Cutoff are interesting. After one of the characters makes casually racist comments early on to establish the attitudes of the time, we're inclined to forget our initial revulsion as the rest of her words and actions within the group tend to be innocuous. The more immediate question, of course, is the relationship with the native (Rod Rondeaux). The dynamic is set up as certain members of the party attempting to put aside their fears and trust his superior knowledge of the terrain while others hold on to frightened prejudices, but it's important to note that even the group that scans as open-minded isn't looking for the sort of co-operation that comes out of friendship, but exploitation. In its quiet way, the movie is a damning indictment of white America's treatment of the people they displaced, where even those attempting to do right by the natives do so in a conditional, self-serving way.

That's kind of interesting, and the cast and crew quietly support it. There really isn't a weak link among the actors, in terms of creating people that the audience can believe in - each member of the cast is up to giving us a complete picture of who their character is without needless exposition, or necessarily even an obvious hook. Costumes and props have the authenticity that comes from being simple and displaying the right sort of wear. Reichardt and cinematographer Chris Blauvelt make the unusual choice in this day and age of shooting in the squarish academy ratio (even television doesn't do that any more), which creates an agoraphobic effect - rather than the sides of the screen closing in, the wilderness extends in all four directions without end.

It's certainly effective at getting the feelings of being lost and desperate across (and thirsty - spring for the large drink), so it can at least be called effective. Not necessarily good, though; it's the sort of movie that so pointedly begins without dialogue, and the first spoken words may not so much grab attention as make the audience wish they had stopwatches to click. Reichardt and writer Johnathan Raymond also set up a situation where the difference between moving what story there is forward and treading water can be extremely difficult to see, and what one person sees as subtle, careful progression may come off as aggravating repetition to another.

There are rewards in "Meek's Cutoff", and it would be a lie to suggest that it doesn't accomplish certain goals with great skill. It would be equally untrue to claim those goals are worthwhile to all in the audience, and imperfect condition can easily make even its virtues into faults.

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originally posted: 06/11/11 02:01:52
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 New York Film Festival For more in the 2010 New York Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 67th Venice International Film Festival For more in the 67th Venice International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Austin Film Festival For more in the 2010 Austin Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2011 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

11/05/16 David Hollingsworth A minimalist but slow-burning Impressionist Western. 5 stars
2/07/12 David Hollingsworth Simple, complex, and minimally brilliant 5 stars
9/25/11 mr.mike IWhile the film is well done , I am forced to agree with Jay Seaver's review. 3 stars
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  08-Apr-2011 (PG)
  DVD: 13-Sep-2011


  DVD: 13-Sep-2011

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