|Meek's Cutoff (USA; 104 min.)
directed by: Kelly Reichardt
starring: Michelle Wiliams; Bruce Greenwood; Will Patton; Zoe Kazan; Paul Dano; Shirley Henderon
says: "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 does 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.' 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. 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. 2 3/4 cats
"Seen 17 May 2011 in Landmark Kendall Square #8 (first-run)"
"While I respect Jay's opinion and review, I wouldn't want it to put
anyone off from seeing MEEK'S CUTOFF. One man's boredom is
another man's deliberately paced. It would be easy to call Tsai
Ming-Liang's WHAT TIME IS IT THERE boring, but I think it's a work of
absolute genius, and while I wouldn't go quite that far with MEEK's
CUTOFF, it is a work of art that I thoroughly enjoyed.
"The deliberate pacing is definitely just that, deliberate. Jay's comment about endurance rather than enjoyment is not entirely untrue, but fortunately for me, at least, enjoyment isn't the sole, or even most important reason why I like to see films. And to clarify, I did enjoy MEEK'S CUTOFF, and I endured it as well. While watching this film, it struck me for perhaps the very first time that these pioneers truly walked across the country. It's rather astounding that any of the made it really.
"What makes MEEK'S CUTOFF truly unique, is it's point-of-view. This is a pioneer film from a woman's perspective, both in its lead character, and its director. While Michelle Williams' Emily Tetherow may not have the most screentime, and she certainly doesn't have the title (that belongs to Bruce Greenwood, doing is usual fine job) she does have the audiences sympathy, and I would venture to say, the primary point-of-view of the film. In addition, director Kelly Reichardt is a woman. Despite the fact that the screenplay is written by a man, the choices made in the film, and the creative force behind the film belong to a woman. And Emily Tetherow is one quietly courageous and tough female lead.
"It's also a beautifully shot film, from it's choice of aspect ratio to convey isolation despite the sweeping vistas to the authenticity of the costuming and props.
"With regard to both the pace and the point-of-view of the film, I actually thought to myself shortly after the movie started, "Thank God there are filmmakers out there still making films like this." It seem improbable, really, in this day and age of fast-paced, rapidly edited films.
"It may not be everyone's cup of tea, but I have found myself recommending it frequently. 4 1/2 cats"
says: "I agree with Michael that while a bit slow...it is a very
good slow burn on MEEK'S CUTOFF and what can be done in a limited
dialogue film. 4 1/2 cats"
says: "I actually found the film to be riveting. Is what they are
seeking just over the next hill? How long are they going to last before
turning on one another? When are we going to see this familiar graphic?
"(Well, familiar to those of us who played computer games in the early 90's anyway.)
"And really, the climax was entirely satisfying. It's a pretty rich screenplay underneath. 4 cats"