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Meek's Cutoff (2011)



Average Rating: 7.5/10
Reviews Counted: 123
Fresh: 105 | Rotten: 18

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.


Average Rating: 7.5/10
Critic Reviews: 37
Fresh: 34 | Rotten: 3

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.



liked it
Average Rating: 3.1/5
User Ratings: 8,629

My Rating

Movie Info

The year is 1845, the earliest days of the Oregon Trail, and a wagon train of three families has hired mountain man Stephen Meek to guide them over the Cascade Mountains. Claiming to know a shortcut, Meek leads the group on an unmarked path across the high plain desert, only to become lost in the dry rock and sage. Over the coming days, the emigrants face the scourges of hunger, thirst and their own lack of faith in one another's instincts for survival. When a Native American wanderer crosses


Western, Drama

Aug 8, 2011


Oscilloscope Pictures - Official Site External Icon

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All Critics (125) | Top Critics (37) | Fresh (105) | Rotten (18) | DVD (7)

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.

May 27, 2011 Full Review Source: Chicago Reader
Chicago Reader
Top Critic IconTop Critic

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.

May 26, 2011 Full Review Source: Arizona Republic
Arizona Republic
Top Critic IconTop Critic

There are stretches that are, frankly, boring. But the vivid details and intimacy you develop with these travelers sticks with you, leaving you in awe of the insane feats people had to accomplish in order for us to enjoy the world we know today.

May 25, 2011 Full Review Source: Miami Herald
Miami Herald
Top Critic IconTop Critic

A mesmerizing cinematic journey that is often as arduous and spare as the lives of its hard-bitten protagonists.

May 20, 2011 Full Review Source: Washington Post | Comments (2)
Washington Post
Top Critic IconTop Critic

This is the sort of film critics love to praise because the filmmaker has done good work before; and well, there must be something there. Well, there's not.

May 13, 2011 Full Review Source: Detroit News | Comments (13)
Detroit News
Top Critic IconTop Critic

A film ponderously slow in pace yet kinetically charged with insight; starkly realistic yet allegorical too; psychologically astute yet politically resonant.

May 13, 2011 Full Review Source: Globe and Mail
Globe and Mail
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Meek's Cutoff is a thoughtful, and intimate narrative that is beautifully shot and has outstanding direction.

November 11, 2013 Full Review Source: We Got This Covered
We Got This Covered

Reichardt's film is - to put it simply - a masterpiece.

September 15, 2013 Full Review Source: Trespass

presented people who were so devoid of personality, humor and interest that I didn't care if any of them made it out alive

August 26, 2013 Full Review Source: 7M Pictures
7M Pictures

The film is both evocative and provocative; atmospherically and conceptually, respectively.

July 21, 2012 Full Review Source: Cinemania | Comment (1)

I rarely feel the heart-in-my-throat suspense that I felt as Reichardt's characters sent a covered wagon down a steep hill ...

June 15, 2012 Full Review Source: Filmwell

A better complement than 'The Big Trail' would be 'The Blair Witch Project,' another film that taps into an American unease with the wilderness that is the shadow twin of the country's bold sense of manifest destiny.

November 17, 2011 Full Review Source: Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN)
Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN)

I felt like I was trapped on a slow-moving wagon train to nowhere with a bunch of people I wanted to escape from.

October 27, 2011 Full Review Source: Laramie Movie Scope
Laramie Movie Scope

Reichardt puts such an unequivocal spin on this well-trod territory as to make it feel heretofore uncharted and of her own reckoning.

October 14, 2011 Full Review Source: Not Coming to a Theater Near You
Not Coming to a Theater Near You

Offbeat and most interesting western about emigrant pioneers lost in the prairie.

September 27, 2011 Full Review Source: Ozus' World Movie Reviews
Ozus' World Movie Reviews

... a primal piece of filmmaking, wrought from dirt and rock, calico and splintered wood, and illuminated by natural light and campfire.

September 14, 2011 Full Review Source: Parallax View
Parallax View

Be warned. Some stretches are almost as much of a slog for the viewer as they are for the pioneers... But Meek's Cutoff conveys a far more realistic account of what life was really like on the frontier trail than John Wayne or Clint Eastwood ever did.

August 8, 2011 Full Review Source: Movie Talk
Movie Talk

This is a film where life and death decisions are made at every turn; where the very concepts of religion and humanity are dissected in gorgeously subtle yet devastating ways.

July 14, 2011 Full Review Source: Quickflix

Kelly Reichardt's extremely modest film is slow, but it is also intriguing, moving and meaningful.

July 13, 2011 Full Review Source: ABC Radio (Australia)
ABC Radio (Australia)

May well be truer to what the migration west was like for many settlers than Hollywood's romanticized and sanitized version of such stories.

June 23, 2011 Full Review Source: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Michelle Williams is now the only Dawson's Creek cast member with a chat-worthy film career.

June 16, 2011 Full Review Source: The Age (Australia)
The Age (Australia)

"Meek's Cutoff" works wonders even if you don't buy the political metaphor, instead appreciating the film as a historical survival tale and a meditation on the nature of trust - how others win it from us and why we give it to them.

June 10, 2011 Full Review Source: Capital Times (Madison, WI)
Capital Times (Madison, WI)

Exhausting and ambiguous, it's for moviegoers who relish a quiet, arduous chronicle of bleak hardship, seemingly portrayed in real time.

June 9, 2011 Full Review Source: SSG Syndicate
SSG Syndicate

Sparse, uncompromising and bewitching. Reichardt has stripped back all but the bare essentials, scattering the characters across the sun-bleached landscape like marbles.

May 31, 2011 Full Review Source: The Vine
The Vine

By privileging the dynamics between the characters over story, Reichardt has created an extremely rewarding cinematic experience that is rich in political commentary, pathos and visual beauty.

May 30, 2011 Full Review Source: Cinema Autopsy
Cinema Autopsy

It will definitely divide audiences. Some may find it a graceful and understated master class in observation. Others may be put to sleep.

May 27, 2011 Full Review Source: Entertainment Spectrum | Comments (2)
Entertainment Spectrum

Audience Reviews for Meek's Cutoff

Probably the most realistic portrayal of frontier life and the waggon trial, with hopes and fears weighing heavy on the families looking for a place to live - in every sense of the word. Kelly Reichardt's films are a relatively recent discovery for me and each one so far has just astonished me with their simplistic, honest and mesmerising ambiance. I can't help but feel she has been abandoned and misunderstood by her fellow countrymen as she is obviously a very proud American - For what it's worth, she is the one of the few American directors in my mind, and the only one I can think of off the top of my head, making really great American films. each character in Meek's Cutoff represents a different aspect of society that is still very relevant today, maybe even more so. At the very least, this is the best history lesson you never had, I can't praise it enough. People who say things like 'It's boring' and 'nothing happens' clearly haven't been concentrating even though when you don't really have to!
July 4, 2014

Super Reviewer

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.
February 15, 2013
Melvin White

Super Reviewer

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.
January 23, 2013
paul sandberg

Super Reviewer

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.
April 20, 2012
Chris Weber

Super Reviewer

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