Meek's Cutoff (2011)
Critic Consensus: Moving at a contemplative speed unseen in most westerns, Meek's Cutoff is an effective, intense journey of terror and survival in the untamed frontier.
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Critic Reviews for Meek's Cutoff
Imagine a collaboration between John Ford and Wallace Stevens and you might get a sense of what Kelly Reichardt pulls off here: a sincere re-creation of the pioneer experience, brought to life through careful, often unexpected detail.
Greatly enhanced by the performances of Michelle Williams and Bruce Greenwood, director Kelly Reichardt's film quietly becomes engrossing - it almost sneaks up on you.
Meek's Cutoff is a thoughtful, and intimate narrative that is beautifully shot and has outstanding direction.
Audience Reviews for Meek's Cutoff
Here's the thing with Meek's Cutoff; it's a movie that isn't going to appeal to a large audience and probably not even a small one to be honest. It's a movie that moves slow in the beginning, slower in the middle, and slow at the end. Oh, and then there's the whole no real beginning, no real end thing that pissed a lot of people off.
I for one got a good amount of enjoyment from watching Kelly Reichardt's Meek's Cutoff. It has such beautiful cinematography. Every single shot of this film is what you'd call art. It's been a while since I was so blown away by the pure beauty that is every single shot of this film. So it looks great and that does mean a lot to me. I also loved Michelle Williams, as always. Every time I watch her in another movie, I end up loving her more than I did before. Bruce Greenwood is also good and Paul Dano has a role, but he's nothing too special in it.
Meek's Cutoff follows a couple of families as they follow a man named Meek who promised them he could get them to the mountains quicker then the trail. He took a shortcut, but it seems like anything but a shortcut. The movie begins with the families crossing a river and collecting water. The scene goes on for quite awhile and at first I wondered why, but it was extremely apparent as the film moved on. They find themselves without much water and Meek isn't able to bring them to any. So now some of them are questioning Meek. Then a Native American shows up around them, so they capture him and try to make him show them to the water.
There's a lot in this film that would and obviously has put off audiences. It's slow, it's quiet, and it doesn't really lead us anywhere. Well that's the point. We're kind of put into the same situation as the people in the move. We're being lead around a film, but are we going to get anywhere? Their being led around the wilderness, but will they get anywhere?
I'm not going to say this is a masterpiece or anything, although visually it is. I'm not going to say I loved it, but it will make me watch Kelly Reichardt's other films and the ones she does in the future. Look, I'm not going to recommend this because I just don't think there's a lot of people who would like it. I liked it, but I don't speak for majority of people.
There are scenes in this 2010 "western" that make watching paint dry seem like an adrenaline ride, however, there is a stark beauty to behold, and all the contemplative slowness does immerse you in the pioneer experience - for imagine what traveling cross country in a covered wagon, doing 10 miles a day would have been like.
There are huge expanses of "nothin'" in eastern Oregon - plains and playas where the nearest mountain is 40 or 50 miles away... in other words, you have to traverse the same barren moonscape for 4 to 5 days just to get there! I'm sure that it would never appear that the mountains are getting any closer. I've been through the area around Burns, Oregon where this was filmed (there are wild horses to be photographed in the area - as well as lots of petroglyphs and dinosaur footprints) and was sure glad I had a vehicle that was capable of 70mph, for some of the vistas indeed did seem endless.
What director Kelly Reichardt shows us is that boredom and stark realism. For much of the film no-one says much and not much happens - just the 3 covered wagons being led across the vast wilderness - well filmed with one long shot dissolving into another, day after day after day.
Soon, from the sparse dialog you get the picture - this group of 3 east coast families (who going in don't know each other at all), hire Steven Meeks as a guide to get them into the promised land (in this case the beautiful and bountiful Willamette Valley). Meeks is full of tall tales and it becomes apparent that he really is more bluster than real, and he has gotten the group hopelessly lost.
When a curious Indian begins following the group, the defacto group leader (solidly played by Will Patton) convinces Meeks and the others to capture the Indian in the hopes that he can lead them to water. What transpires thereafter deals with trust, fear, and prejudice while the tension slowly mounts over whether the group will find water and survive.
Along the way there is a solid minimalist performance of Michelle Williams and a nice turn by Bruce Greenwood as the blowhard Meeks to go with the vast vistas of nothingness. At an hour and 45 minutes, the film does waste considerable screen time on said nothingness, both scenery wise and in terms of script. When faced with having to lower the wagons down a steep slope via rope one at a time I question whether it was really necessary for Reichardt to show the descent of all three. It's this kind of questionable directorial decision that makes the film a nice contemplation on a time and place, but ultimately a flawed piece of cinema.
With this film, Kelly Reichardt has made what is perhaps the most authentic and realistic portrayal of life during the early days of the Oregon Trail. As a result, this is very artsy, and not really your typical entertaining "movie" type of thing. It's more like an experience or an exercise in struggle, and seeing the breakdown of trust and will power in the face of adversity.
So, this basically fails as enntertainment, but excels as a non-documentary, documentary. And, for the most part, I really dug this.
The movie doesn't really start or end in proper fashion, but simply exists. The year is 1845, the earlist time for the Oregon Trail. Three families have enlisted the help of mountain man Steven Meek who has them stray from the trail in order to take what he says is a shortcut across the Cascade Mountains. As it turns out, Meek is wrong and the party end up lost in the dry, stark, and barren high plains, left with no fresh water or hope. Not only that, but the group encounters a wandering Native American who may or may not be trying to help them, just like how Meek may or may not have intentionally gotten them lost...
By the way, this is based on true events. Of course, the movie opts for an ambiguous conclusion, but it's safe to say that there's some darkness and tragedy going on. The presentation is also very slow, deliberate, and contains a very loose narrative with sparse dialogue. Also, the scenes with the Indian are done without subtitles, so all the characters (and the audience) are left to interpret for themselves what is going on, which I really appreciated.
The film is very much like something Werner Herzog would do. There's even a scene that's something of a reverse Fitzcarraldo. Yeah, not much happens, but I found the film oddly compelling and engaging. Sure, it's a bit tedious at first, and there's not much character development, but that's what makes it so fascinating. It really is like looking in on real life. People really do mundane things, and aren't always interesting, and that's what the bulk of this film is: people traveling, doing chores, and trying to survive.
So of course this isn't for all tastes, but it's definitely well done. The art direction, costumes, and period details are top notch. The cinematogrpahy is gorgeous, and the landscapes look terrific. There's a talented cast here, and I love their willingness to be a part of an artsyt indie project like this that bucks conventions and sticks to its vision all the way through. Michelle Williams (who looks badass on the poster) is good, Paul Dano is okay, and Will Patton is decent, but the film belongs to Bruce Greenwood, unrecognizable underneath a long scraggly beard and greasy long hair as Meek. It's a badass performance, and it's cool seeing him be grungy with an undercurrent of menace.
By this point in my review you should know how I feel and have a good idea of whether you want to see this or not. Leave it at that.
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