DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: TIFF 2010 - Meek's Cutoff

Wednesday 15 September 2010

TIFF 2010 - Meek's Cutoff

Meek’s Cutoff (2010) dir. Kelly Reichardt
Starring: Michelle Williams, Bruce Greenwood, Will Patton, Paul Dano, Rod Rondeau


By Alan Bacchus

Arguably the North American Premiere of Meek’s Cutoff is one of the hotly anticipated films, at least for Toronto audiences. For those unfamiliar it’s the next feature film from Kelly Reichardt after her breakout success Wendy and Lucy, which Toronto Film Critics anointed as the best of the film a couple year’s back. This time Reichardt's working in the western genre yet applies the same observational style, a unique slow burning type of realism which historically has divided audience between brilliance and boredom.

This one is no exception. From these eyes while it's just too detached to completely satisfy me in the way Wendy & Lucy did, Meek's Cutoff makes up for its narrative deficiencies with its aesthetic voracity.

It’s exciting to see such a staunch independent auteur female filmmaker venture into a typically male genre. Kelly Reichardt has created real western (I can't recall another western directed by a female?). It’s Oregon in the mid 19th century, three families are on a convoy across the Midwestern desert plains away from the dangers of Indian war parties for greener pastures west. Leading the group is a gruff pack leader, Meek (Greenwood) contracted to guide them across the treacherous land.

In the opening the convoy is already at wits end, lost and disillusioned that Meek actually knows where he’s going. A quiet power struggle results between Meek and the other men, specifically Solomon Tetherow (Patton) who differ which the direction to go. When an indian is captured by the group they take him in, bartering food and shelter in exchange for a safe route to water. Can the indian be trusted? Emily Tetherow (Michelle Williams) thinks so, a humanistic attitude which comes into conflict with Meek and the other men.

Meek’s Cutoff sits somewhere in between the extremes of brilliance and boredom. At once it’s an often stunning exercise in sustained quiet tension, on the other we wait patiently for the tension to build toward an event, action or conflict of some kind which never emerges. At the very least, Reichardt and her writer Jonathan Raymond, have crafted a completely unique western, the characters and setting are familiar, but with a stripped down dramatic core emphasizing the innate humanism in all of us. Not much happens, but there's enough value in the conviction Reichardt's hero and moral centre for us to feel the gravitas of the endeavour.

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