Meek's Cutoff - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

Meek's Cutoff Reviews

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Super Reviewer
½ March 22, 2016
Not even for Zoe Kazan.
Wow, what a dull movie. I managed about 20 minutes before I'd had enough.
Super Reviewer
February 13, 2013
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.
Super Reviewer
January 23, 2013
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.
Super Reviewer
September 12, 2011
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.
Super Reviewer
½ October 28, 2010
I felt uneasily drawn in by this film. No beginning. No end. Just an exhausting trek across a dangerous frontier. This isn't mindless entertainment, this is an exercise in empathy.
Super Reviewer
½ December 13, 2011
I admire Meek's Cutoff's deliberate pacing, its emphasis on atmosphere, and how it cultivates a palpable portrayal of the high plan desert, but the film could have benefited greatly from a little immediacy. In true Leanian fashion, I don't think Kelly Reichardt is directorially savvy enough to control a film this methodical -- which, for me, begs the question: Where would she be if she didn't have Michelle Williams to elevate her last two films?
Super Reviewer
January 12, 2011
Cast: Michelle Williams, Bruce Greenwood, Will Patton, Zoe Kazan, Paul Dano, Shirley Henderson, Neal Huff, Tommy Nelson, Rod Rondeaux

Director: Kelly Reichardt

Summary: Set in 1845, this drama follows a group of settlers as they embark on a punishing journey along the Oregon Trail. When their guide leads them astray, the expedition is forced to contend with the unforgiving conditions of the high plain desert.

My Thoughts: "The movie is listed as an action/adventure. Adventure, yes. Action, where? The most action you get out of this film is watching them walk. I am not one for westerns, if you can even call it that, but I seen that Michelle Williams is in the film and I love watching her in anything. She and Paul Dano are the only reasons I didn't push stop on the remote. The story is somewhat interesting, but I have read that the story being played out in this film isn't quite exactly the correct version. More likely this is the boring version of the story. The acting is all good in this film. That and the scenery is the only thing this film has going for it."
Nate Z.
Super Reviewer
½ December 8, 2011
The early frontiersmen lead difficult, backbreaking struggles as they migrated west to start anew. The pioneers had a perilous journey, and judging from Meek's Cutoff, they had a hard time asking for directions. We follow a wagon train hopelessly lost in Eastern Oregon, blindly hoping they are getting ever closer to water. This awful movie feels about as adrift as the characters. Director Kelly Reichardt (Wendy and Lucy) recreates pioneer life in obsequious detail, which means that for most of the interminably long 104 minutes we're watching characters walk. And walk. And walk. Hey, now they're doing something, nope back to walking. Michelle Williams (Blue Valentine) has the most personality of this taciturn bunch, but I couldn't have cared less about her lot. The movie is practically indignant about the narrative demands an audience has for its movies. This is not some arty examination on the treacherous nature of the human spirit, or some conceited claptrap like such. And in a growing trend of 2011 Sundance films, Meek's Cutoff ends absurdly abrupt, just as the characters appeared at a crossroads and on the verge of mercifully doing something interesting. Instead, Reichardt ritualistically kills the movie on this spot, robbing the audience of any payoff after 104 minutes of fruitless and tiresome artistic masturbation. If I wanted to watch a recreation of frontier life without any regard to character or story, I'd watch the History Channel. This is an exasperating, maddening, crushingly boring movie that makes you feel trapped on that misbegotten wagon train.

Nate's Grade: D
Super Reviewer
½ September 22, 2011
Well, as someone who's part Native American, I have some problems this one. On a cinematography level, I thought this was very well shot. Michelle Williams turns in yet again a fine performance as well.
However, the subject of settling the West and taking possession of land by literally a "staking a claim" in it does not stand with me as well as the derogatory comments against Native Americans.
Super Reviewer
July 23, 2011
'Meek's Cutoff'. A beautiful character study on survival and faith. Sprawling, gorgeous imagery and a great ensemble cast.
Super Reviewer
May 28, 2011
Brutally cruel to the audience (and characters), this film seeks to lay out -- with nearly no obvious conflicts or character development -- how truly awful it would be to trek across the west in the 19th century. You'll leave wondering what the hell these people were thinking and how we ever settled the west at all. You'll also leave utterly unsatisfied by the lack of, well, story here, and yet hopefully riveted by the realness of it all. No glamor here, folks. The film achieves everything it sets out to do -- unfortunately, stasis and aimless wandering are included in its goals. Recommended for folks who would've enjoyed There Will Be Blood even if it didn't have Daniel Day Lewis...
Bill D 2007
Super Reviewer
April 24, 2011
Kelly Reichardt's new film, "Meek's Cutoff," is a stark, tough meditation on being lost and not knowing whom to trust. It also reflects on the collision of cultures, particularly in the context of colonial conquest. These themes certainly aren't new, but Ms. Reichardt distinguishes herself by exploring them in an unusually complex way. It's not just two cultures colliding, but 25 or so, maybe even 50. Also, there are not just two camps mistrusting each other, but several.

Another interesting complexity is that the film in a way draws up for question what it means to feel lost. Walking out of the theater, I found myself thinking about this in some new ways. What triggers in people the feeling of being lost? What makes it go away? When people feel it, they often say, "I don't know where I am," which calls to mind that ancient Buddhist maxim: "Everywhere you go, there you are."

While the complexities are a pleasure and the film is strong, "Meek's Cutoff" doesn't bowl one over. It has a haunting quality, and it will surely make numerous Top 20 lists at the end of the year. But I don't suspect it will make many Top 5 lists. Ms. Reichardt is a unique and courageous artist, and we're lucky to have her. She refuses to court the mainstream or kowtow to trends. Commercial considerations seem to play absolutely no role in her work. Only artistic considerations matter to her. This is enormously appreciated in these times of shallow commercialism. But there's something underwhelming about her work. Her ultra-minimalist style frequently feels thin. She's a genuine cinematic auteur, but not a great one. At least not yet.

Many of the great cinematic artists of our time are minimalist. Since about 1960, that has been one of the predominant methods for reaching higher artistic ground. But where, say, Apichatpong Weerasethakul's minimalism feels most often like a feast, Kelly Reichardt's often comes across like starvation. Minimalism as anorexia.


"Meek's Cutoff" is set in 1840s North America. Three white American families are seeking to settle in the west, but it's not turning out as they had hoped. They are in a vast barren part of the Oregon territory that seems to have no end, and food and water are scarce. They have put their faith in a fellow white American named Stephen Meek (very well played by Bruce Greenwood), but they may have succumbed to the naive belief that all white Americans look out for each other.

When Meek's cutoff leads them nowhere, they begin to suspect that he's in cahoots with either the British or the Natives to prevent Americans from settling in the region. When the film opens, they have been wandering in the arid near-desert for five weeks already. The would-be settlers are staring into the face of death and wondering if their last act on Earth should be to hang Meek. But how can they be sure of his intentions?

Then they capture a lone Indian, and everything gets more interesting. The Indian (played beautifully by a professional stuntman named Rod Rondeaux) seems not to understand any English, and none of them understands his language. They impress him into servitude, asking to be led to water. Meek is unremittingly hostile to the Indian, saying that Indians are murderous and cunning. Is Meek protecting the settlers or trying to prevent the Indian from rescuing them?

Super Reviewer
September 23, 2011
Haunting, elegaic and not like anything else, Kelly Reichardt's MEEK'S CUTOFF is a non-western western about a tiny, besieged group of pioneers trudging west on some barely defined trail, and heading quite sadly off it. I loved Reichardt's WENDY AND LUCY and pretty much hated her OLD JOY, so I didn't know how this would go for me, but the sad, deliberate, hushed pace of this movie is hypnotic in the best ways (it reminded me a little of Gus Van Sandt's amazing GERRY), and the acting is so full of despair and dread that you don't even need to hear words to get what's going on. And make no mistake, you often don't. But there's a lot here, and it ends on a note that is, though undefinable, somehow exactly right.
Super Reviewer
½ May 1, 2011
In "Meek's Cutoff," Stephen Meek(Bruce Greenwood) is leading a group of settlers in Oregon in 1845 who are running low on water. Soloman Tetherow(Will Patton) tells his wife Emily(Michelle Williams) that they will give him another few days before setting off on their own for the Columbia River. So, while the men talk amongst themselves, the women knit, a lot. This does not stop Emily from thinking she sees someone off in the distance. Then, later, it does turn out that she did! She did see an Indian(Rod Rondeaux)!

While I respect any movie that is brave enough to slow the pace down to the cadence of the period it is set in, "Meek's Cutoff" takes it too far and makes the viewer feel like he just walked the entire length of the Oregon Trail, wasting a perfectly good cast in the process. In fact, it definitely made me thirsty watching it.(Somebody could conceivably make a fortune off the bottled water concession for this movie alone.) But as much as the attitudes of the time might be authentic, viewing them from a 21st century perspective is a little too easy. In the end, the question remains what were they really looking for in the first place. That might not matter as long as they don't litter.
Super Reviewer
½ September 30, 2012
This 2010 western film directed by Kelly Reichardt was something to be remembered. It was shown in competition at the 67th Venice International Film Festival and I could see why. The story is loosely based on a historical incident on the Oregon Trail in 1845... guide Stephen Meek led a wagon train on an ill-fated journey through the Oregon desert along the route later known as the Meek Cutoff. This exceptional movie was delivered with as little dialogue as possible moving at a contemplative speed passing to the viewer the full intensity of the journey with all of the hardships of it - one could almost feel it on its own shoulders!

Kelly Reichardt smoothly lead us to the end following very elegantly made script by Jonathan Raymond and the acting of Michelle Williams, Paul Dano, Bruce Greenwood, Shirley Henderson, Neal Huff, Zoe Kazan and Tommy Nelson made their tasks much easier, resulting in realistic very well made movie about the pioneers of the Wild West.

Don't miss this one, with great cinematography it will change your mental imagery of the Wild West.
Super Reviewer
½ May 12, 2011
Surely one of the great disappointments of the year. Reichardt who put together the very touching Wendy and Lucy brings back her muse Michelle Williams to tell probably the dullest tale of the old West yet created.
Super Reviewer
October 22, 2011
Meek's Cutoff is an intense, well acted, beautifully shot, and realistic character-study western (though a western in a loose sense). Surprisingly impressive was Bruce Greenwood, who had the best work I've ever seen from him. It's deliberately paced, to be sure, with probably an over abundance of long wide-angle shots, but it still remains tense until the end.
Super Reviewer
½ April 7, 2011
More like stepping into an actual Oregon Trail expedition rather than watching a compelling film about one, this film grows tiresome and bleak. Most of the film has the viewer follow along as a family travels behind a mountain man named Meek who guarantees them safe passage through the mountains. None of the performances warrant any attention and when the film isn't leaving you in silence in the POV of the women as the men deliberate or forcing you to watch as one of the wagons takes a long, arduous fall down a mountain side, it is boring you with long walks that mediocre cinematography cannot even save.
Super Reviewer
½ September 29, 2011
I figured out what the rhythms of the film were going to be about five minutes in (several long, quiet sequences of movement set against the breathtaking vistas of the west punctuated by brief scenes of sharp dialogue all leading up to an ambiguous ending) but I still enjoyed it. Director Kelly Reichardt's use of minimalist realism is effective in demonstrating the breakdown of a traditional patriarchal leadership structure in the face of hardship, without it becoming a modern day feminist statement. Also, I'm slowly becoming convinced that Michelle Williams can do no wrong as a performer.
Super Reviewer
June 1, 2011
I saw this in a crazy week when I saw about 10 other films at the cinema, and this is the one that I just cannot stop thinking about. Hailed as "Truer Grit", Meek's Cutoff is a realistic, deliberately slow-paced western that rejects almost all the familiar, 'enjoyable' and expected conventions of western films, indeed rejecting most of the traditional forms of narrative cinema, offering few answers, little background information, and no certain ending. It is hypnotic (as Reciardt's films have all been so far), with a beautiful eye for details in barren landscapes - some of which appear to have been drained of any colour above pastel shade; the desert plains and hills look as they are - almost inhospitable with no sign of water around. Unusually, the film is shot in the now long unfashionable 4:3 Academy Ratio, that heightens the stifling weather conditions and the claustrophobia felt by the characters at certain points. The three families' journey to what they most hope will be a better life over the Cascade Mountains becomes gradually imbued with dread (there are few "incidents" save for that back-of-the-mind scratch that the water is rapidly running out), and this together with excellent sound design similar to that used in Gerry makes for a film that is both very difficult to sit through but somehow incredibly immersive and painstakingly truthful. There are many themes that could be at work here - that of feminism, racism, politics, to name but some. Several critics have commented that the decision the families (actually, the men, since the women - possibly Emily Tetherow accepted - are not consulted) face - whether to trust Meek in deciding what journey to take despite his obvious tall-tales, or put their faith in the "Indian", a member of a race they have been told all their lives are an enemy - has parallels to the invasion of Iraq. There are no clear answers here, and some of the audience I saw the film with voiced their negative opinion of the inconclusive ending loudly; where they were unsatisfied I was, however, impressed with Reciardt's of absolute control and unwillingness to offer easy, or any, answers. One last thing I want to mention are the performances which are so natural you don't notice the acting, but especially, the almost always wonderful Michelle Williams who the camera simply loves in a way I can't describe, especially here, her every facial expression telling a thousand unsayable things (as a woman of this period of course, she wouldn't have been able to say what she wanted to, although her character certainly is the most proactive of the women). To paraphrase another critic, in ten years time I honestly believe that Meeks Cutoff will be recognised as a classic, and I already am desperate to see it again.
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