Meek’s Cutoff (2011) – Kelly Reichardt

I did not travel the Oregon Trail, believe it or not, but it I had it would be something like Kelly Reichardt’s Meek’s Cutoff, a fine new western that chooses accuracy over entertainment. I’m fine with that. True, there’s no gimmicks to build interest, but the film is interesting because it has real people working to solve a problem, in this case, being lost in the desert without any water. Reichardt reunites with Michelle Williams after the wonderful and criminally ignored Wendy and Lucy from 2008. Here Williams is Emily Tetherow, a no-nonsense woman of practicality. There’s very little nonsense in the film, except from Stephen Meek, the appointed leader of this little band who has a voice provided by Bruce Greenwood from behind a biblical beard. Will Patton and Paul Dano fill out the cast as Emily’s husband and a fellow traveler respectively. An important role is filled in nicely by Rod Rondeaux as “the Indian” that the group finds and tries to have him lead them to water. Of course, they don’t understand each other. Rondeaux exists a little like the young man in Kielslowski’s Decalogue except more involved, but he often observes and takes in what for him must seem like absolute lunacy. It’s not that far off to us, either.

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