Dir: Kelly Reichardt
Starring: Michelle Williams, Paul Dano, Bruce Greenwood, Will Patton, Zoe Kazan, Shirley Henderson, Rod Rondeaux
I saw Meek’s Cutoff back upon its limited theatrical release and the film hasn’t left me. Upon this rewatch I was sure it would still linger with me, and linger it has. This film is easily one of the best I have seen this year, it is impressive in so many ways. It is not a happy story, but it is one of harsh survival against nature and the ones you are left with.
The film is about three families, who in 1845 travel along the Oregon Trail led by Stephen Meek. He tells them he knows a short cut but as the days roll on it seems like they are lost, without much food or water to survive on. They begin to question whether Meek knows what he is doing, and a Native American who comes across them adds to the unease of their situation.
I am not sure I have seen a film recently that pays so much attention to detail as this one. It felt authentic; if someone had placed a camera in 1845 this is what we would have seen. The cast and crew made this journey, there are no magic tricks they actually performed the tasks that are shown. It is quite a sight to see, and it really shows how different and harsh live was back then. The absence of technology really makes you realise just how much we all take it for granted. This in itself is an amazing feat, and I really gave to commend Kelly Reichardt, her crew and cast for everything they put themselves through for this.
The performances here are bar none excellent; we have this central group of people and no one else. Three different families all going through the same thing, with the exception of outsider and guide Meek (Bruce Greenwood) and the Native American (Rod Rondeaux) that they encounter along the way. There is more of a focus on Emily (Michelle Williams) as well as her husband Soloman (Will Patton) but it certainly does not take anything away from anyone else. Each person delivers a stand-up performance whether they have much screen time or not. For the most part everyone is against type here, these characters are unlike they have played before. In fact when I first saw this I did not even recognise Bruce Greenwood until the end credits. They disappear into these roles and become these characters; they go through what they go through, it is such a realistic, honest and raw portrayal of these people.
As gruelling as the terrain was for the characters, the other danger is there within their own group. Is Meek to be trusted, does he know what he is doing? Does the Native American intend to do them harm because of their treatment of him? Were they on the right path to begin with? This is such a layered piece and it is one that will certainly make you think.
Kelly Reichardt is new to me; I unfortunately have not yet had the chance to see her previous films. If this is anything to go by I’d say she is one talented woman. She has given us such a powerful film, and direction is amazing. What she gets from her actors is astonishing, as well as how she was able to film on location and make this journey. This is just one of the most beautifully shot films of the last few years, the cinematography as well by Chris Blauvelt is bar non the best of the last few years. On every level this film is engaging, it is stunning to look at, the subtle soundtrack is the perfect companion piece. The reality of this life is unflinching. The ending is ambiguous, and it will leave the viewer reeling. Don’t let this be a turn off; you can make up your own mind about the ending. If you know anything about the real characters the ending might not be as ambiguous as this was based upon real events. I can’t recommend this brilliant film enough; you owe it to yourself to experience Meek’s Cutoff.
The Australian Deluxe Special Edition DVD
Audio/Video: The video is a full screen presentation. The picture quality is perfect, I mean this is one step away from HD. It is stunning in every way, one of the best transfers I have seen recently. Audio is presented with Dolby Digital 5.1. it is a quiet soundtrack, the film relies heavily on natural sounds. It works though and this is a very nice audio transfer as well.
* Behind Meek’s
The making of extra is a really nice one, good to see behind the scenes and how they achieved certain things. I would have loved a commentary but I am happy we got something included.
Thanks to Ben from MadMan for his support.