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Meek's Cutoff [DVD] 
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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.
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
Top Customer Reviews
No revenge type plot common to many westerns, this is a window on a moment in history and the people therein. The premise is simple enough ; a small wagon trail lost on the barren plains in an increasingly desperate search to find water.
Natural and realistic in it's tone, more like a social drama with a refreshing but substantial emphasis on the female point of view. There is also a delicate, almost eerie edge that builds gradually, spell-like, throughout the film. Ultra authentic with great attention to the details of wagon life. The actors were even forbidden from washing their clothes.
The direction is handled with great precision, but not obviously so. We are teased at times, eavesdropping on mumbled conversations during times of panic. We are made to feel helpless as their helplessness becomes apparent. Plenty of time and space are given for the characters and for the situation to develop. There is evidently a great respect for the subject.
Despite being set on the vast plains, there is a real sense of claustrophobia which creates emphasis on the characters and their predicament. The film therein resembles great intense single situation movies, such as Sidney Lumet's 'Twelve Angry Men', Polanski's 'Knife in the water' and certainly 'The Blair Witch Project'. At times it does feel more like a subtle, psychological horror film than a western, though the menace is entirely unseen. Unlike most westerns, it is shot in tv style 4:3 ratio as opposed to panoramic widescreen, thus emphasising characters and emotion with little relief from scenic splendour.Read more ›
It's a strange film - a slow-burning, mesmerising, almost hypnotic depiction of a group of travellers lost on the Oregon Trail. Led by Stephen Meek, the group has taken a short-cut and lost their way in dry, inhospitable country. Low on water and losing confidence in their apparently incompetent guide, they stumble from setback to setback in what seems like a grueling, agonisingly slow trek towards death.
While the whole cast is superb, Michelle William performance as Emily Tetherow, the one person holding the tenuous group together, is outstanding. As the social cohesion in the group begins to unravel, Emily's toughness, resilience and fortitude seems to provide the only hope.
Beware though. This is a very slow moving film. There is little plot and little action. Those expecting a Western romp with gun-slinging and whiskey drinking will be sorely disappointed.
Another thing to be aware of is the aspect ratio. When I saw the film in the cinema, it was projected in Academy frame ratio (1:33-1) making the film look deliberately old-fashioned. At first I wondered about this. Why would the director choose to make an almost square framed film rather than a wide-screen film, which would at first seem perfectly suited to the beautiful landscape. I think therein lies the reason. By shooting in a square format, the viewer is not distracted by the country; attention if focussed firmly on the characters themselves, their faces, their reactions.
Overall, I loved this film and can't wait for the DVD release.
The men suspect Mr. Meek is deliberately attempting to get them lost as Oregon is an area in flux and may go to the English, depending on how many Americans settle there...or not. There is an Indian that pops up from time to time. Steven scares everyone with his Indian stories. Eventually they encounter the Indian and you think the story will pick up, but surprise! It doesn't.
The movie ends abruptly. From Meek's words, the film appears to be some sort of metaphor for life and fate as to what path to follow and who to trust, although for the life of me I can't really figure out what it is. The movie won all kinds of awards and I haven't figured that one out either. It was extremely boring. The dialouge was boring. The drama was boring. The people were boring. After a while, the scenery got boring. The squeak of the wagon wheel drove me crazy. Why anyone would waste their time watching this film is beyond me. It isn't accurate history. It is not art and it is not entertaining.
Here's the plot: a small band of settlers have chosen to let Meek lead them on a chosen route of his own away from the main trail, but they begin not to trust him as it's taken longer than anticipated. We are tortured by the constant screech of a wagon wheel and dialogue so inaudible you need to turn on the subtitles.
They capture an Indian and bribe him to lead them to water despite Meek's advice to kill him. It takes, um, longer than anticipated. Is he leading them to water or ambush? Let me be clear: there are no incidents or happenings along the way, unless you count things like changing a broken axle or sewing a frayed mocassin.
And...that's the end. Seriously: nothing happens!!!
This is what happens when people try to be arty and forget that a film needs a good script too. Also, why on earth did they film it in 4:3 ratio, the shape of old tv sets?! The framing of the credits at the end seems to suggest this is how it was made and not that the dvd is cropped, but it means on a modern set we get black pillarbox lines on each side of the screen, something usually only present with presentations of ancient classic movies or tv shows.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Good value and condition.Would recommend both seller and mivie.Published 1 month ago by John Thorpe
Seemed like watching paint dry but nevertheless an enjoyable way to watch the processPublished 2 months ago by Bob One
Funny start to film very slow going nearly fell asleep Actors took ages to start speaking to one another, plenty of scenery, harsh conditions, but that's what these pioneers had to... Read morePublished 9 months ago by bigdee
Gave up after 15 minutes. Found it quite a trial with no establishment of characters. Hard to empathise when you didn't have any sense of who anyone was. Read morePublished 14 months ago by sirius
Totally underrated. Every scene is like an Andrew Wyeth painting. Fascinating feminine perspective and haunting throughout.Published 14 months ago by Amazon Customer