Kelly Reichardt's fourth feature, and the third to take place in the Pacific Northwest, arrives in the guise of a Western. On the Oregon Trail in 1845, three couples travel in covered wagons with slippery guide Stephen Meek (an unrecognizable Bruce Greenwood), but days pass, and water remains elusive. Emily (Michelle Williams, who anchored Reichardt's Wendy and Lucy
) laments that "he's gotten in over his head." Meek insists that relief lies around the next ridge, but that's never the case, until an alkaline lake appears. Unfortunately, it's unsuitable for drinking, so they push on. About Meek, Emily's husband (Will Patton) wonders, "Is he ignorant or is he just plain evil?" (The fine cast also includes Zoe Kazan, Paul Dano, Shirley Henderson, Neal Huff, and Tommy Nelson.) The group's bond frays further when a Cayuse Indian (Ron Rondeaux) locks them in his sights. Meek attempts to squeeze information out of him, but he doesn't understand English. On the assumption that he's equally lost and scared, Emily tries to gain his trust by sharing food and mending a moccasin, but he keeps his distance, leading to a showdown with an unexpected result (and one of Williams's finer performances). Always attuned to the rhythms of nature, Reichardt has produced a meditative take on the genre that feels more enigmatic than most--with the possible exception of Jim Jarmusch's Dead Man
--even if the period details always look right. With her focus on faded calico dresses and vast aquamarine skies, Meek's Cutoff
offers a beautiful vision of harsh times. --Kathleen C. Fennessy
Academy Award nominee Michelle Williams (Blue Valentine, Shutter Island, Wendy and Lucy
) stars alongside Paul Dano (There Will Be Blood
) and Bruce Greenwood (Star Trek, I’m Not There, Capote
) in a tense, subtle drama set during the earliest days of the Oregon Trail. The year is 1845 and a wagon team of three families is setting off across the sparse terrain of the Oregon desert. They become lost and have to put their faith in a Native American not knowing if he will lead them into an ambush, or water.