Review: Meek’s Cutoff

by Ty Landis

Director Kelly Reichardt is a filmmaker that is well known for executing her vision with a certain amount of palpable fervor and conviction. However minimal her films are, Reichardt’s best efforts examine the underbelly of a fractured Americana. Reichardt’s latest effort is a revisionist Western that follows a group of settlers through the Oregon desert in 1845 while they’re frequently pit against harsh conditions.

For all of its stunning photography, and the willingness of the cast, I found myself having a tough time grappling with this film. To be fair, the aspect ratio of the screen in my cinema was oddly condensed, I even marched up to the concession stand during the trailers to see if this could be corrected, but no such luck. It should be noted that Meek’s probably shouldn’t have been screened in such a candy ass format that the theater is obviously content with. While the film is sparse in dialogue, Reichardt’s latest is a gorgeous film to look at, one that includes countless wide-shots of the dry and unforgiving terrain that the characters are set against. It’s in this restrained approach that the film either works for you or doesn’t. I generally find myself on-board with Reichardt’s vision, but Meek’s played itself out on a level that wasn’t particularly agreeable with me.

It’s way more claustrophobic in tone than Old Joy and Wendy and Lucy, which I prefer to this. This is Reichardt’s first stab at genre, a term which has to be handled loosely here, since this is not a traditional Western. While there in no conventional narrative at work here, Reichardt has a vice-grip hold on the proceedings throughout. She is both a traditional storyteller and one of the most influential female directors working today. Meek’s seems to be labeled as a small little vehicle for Michelle Williams to show off her talents, but the rest of the cast, mostly well known character actors, are showcased in the film as well. Williams’ strong-willed Emily Tetherow is the catalyst for most of the social proceedings and the embedded commentary that film contains. Also joining her are husband Soloman, played by Will Patton, the delusional Stephen Meek, played by a densely bearded Bruce Greenwood, and also the likes of Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan, and Shirley Henderson.

We first meet the travelers at a point where all hasn’t been lost yet. Their search for water and land is becoming more desirable and increasingly disheartening as the film slogs along. The journey plays as grueling and tiresome to the characters and the audience, and this is just the point, Reichardt places us in that specific perspective which feels draining, but not entirely realized. Stephen Meek is the contracted escort of the group, a man that tries to portray a sense of bravado that never quite seems genuine in the eyes of the settlers. Throughout the journey, his efforts and guidance are often thwarted by the evident truth that he isn’t very good at what he does. The foreboding score adds to the notion that bad things lie ahead. Reichardt concentrates more on the smaller activities and lifelike characteristics that these characters would invoke in that certain period.

Meek’s Cutoff has already been singled out as a successful gem, and another notch on Reichardt’s career belt, but despite the unique vision and the cinematography by Chris Blauvelt, this feels to me at least like a minor effort from Reichardt. I’d be tempted to re-visit this on blu-ray where the aspect ration would be completely intact, but for now Meek’s represents a nice little departure for its filmmaker, and nothing more.

72/100 - Reichardt’s usual musings are all intact here, but Meek’s Cutoff doesn’t quite breathe like her other works, and that’s sort of the point. But, the good outweighs the bad here, resulting in a mild recommendation.

Ty Landis

I've been a film enthusiast ever since I was a little kid. I find that my tastes are consistently expanding and changing. Cinema is a lot like life in the way that we learn and adapt to it. It is my hobby, and my ultimate passion.
  • Pretty Clever Films

    I’m still on the fence about seeing this one as westerns typically aren’t my bag. But it should probably be noted that Meek’s Cutoff was actually shot in a 4:3 aspect ratio, rendering it pretty much square.As Reichardt has said, “I felt like the square gave you an idea of the closed
    view that the women have because of their bonnets.You’d be traveling in this big community where you’d never have
    privacy. But also, it’s a really lonely journey. And I think cutting out
    the peripheral, it does leave you with the idea that something could be
    there that you don’t know about — and so it offers that kind of

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