Meek’s Cutoff (2010)
A small group of settlers head across Oregon; although led by subdued father-figure “Solomon” (Will Patton), they are guided by rough mountain-man “Mr Meek”. The group already distrust “Meek” but after stumbling upon a native american who agrees to lead them to much-needed water, the settlers begin to split apart and question the trust they have placed in one another.
An incredibly slow-paced film which seems to take forever to get started. This western contains no shoot-outs nor does it offer up a showcase of the vices of frontier country (gambling, rampant drinking and prostitution) yet amazingly, and perhaps coincidentally, the film feels ‘action-packed’ and captures the mood of quiet desperation in a way I didn’t expect. This is basically a ‘siege’ movie – along the lines of “Rio Bravo” (1959) and “Assault on Precinct 13” (1976) – but set in the uncharted wilderness and with the earth’s elements as the invisible bad guys.
The script is thankfully sparse but the sound in this movie is fantastic – not the score, but the acual sounds of the wagons moving, the water jugs clunking and the hardened ground cracking. The attention to detail here almost echoes the masterful work of one of the genre’s greatest signatories, Sergio Leone.
Veteran supporting actor Will Patton is sturdy as the softly-spoken optimist and leader of the gang, “Soloman”. Michelle Williams impresses as the new young wife of the widowed Patton but rather unfortunately, Bruce Greenwood’s “Mr Meek” is a complicated character who probably receives too little screen time in the latter half of the picture. In fact it’s the women who are much the centre of the camera’s gaze with their colourful attire lighting up an inhospitably barren and scorched landscape.
Paul Dano (remember him as the mute and moody teenager in “Little Miss Sunshine”?) gives a great turn as one of the younger settlers who quite quickly comes to distrust the native american leading them to water…or is it, as “Mr Meek” says, to blood?
The audience constantly expects some kind of revelation, withheld by director Kelly Reichardt for the entirety of the film, which means that the ambiguous ending will feel like an anti-climax to some. Not for me however, the film’s final moments sum-up the preceding 90 minutes brilliantly – bleak, hopeless and so very uncertain.
A refreshingly different Western, carefully-shot and thought-provoking. In 10-15 years, this could well be regarded as a minor modern classic.
hotdog rating : 8.5/10