Combustible Celluloid
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With: Michelle Williams, Bruce Greenwood, Will Patton, Zoe Kazan, Paul Dano, Shirley Henderson, Neal Huff, Tommy Nelson, Rod Rondeaux
Written by: Jonathan Raymond
Directed by: Kelly Reichardt
MPAA Rating: PG for some mild violent content, brief language and smoking
Running Time: 104
Date: 09/05/2010

Meek's Cutoff (2011)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Taint Your Wagon

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Kelly Reichardt is definitely a director focused on mood rather than plot. Her movie Old Joy (2006) was about two old friends who go on a camping trip, and her Wendy and Lucy (2008) is about a young woman searching for her lost dog. Both movies contain many long stretches in which seemingly "nothing" happens, and that's the case with Meek's Cutoff. The travelers keep moving, and they keep searching for water, but the ultimate point of the movie isn't about finding water, it's about the different sides of any story and how nothing is fixed or definite.

In 1845, three families drive their wagon train toward California to settle and seek their fortunes. They have a hired guide, Meek (Bruce Greenwood), who tells a good story but who sometimes doesn't seem to know where he's going. One of the women, Emily Tetherow (Michelle Williams), seems to be tougher, smarter, and more practical than anyone else, and her wisdom often points the way. As the story begins, they gather fresh water at a creek, but their supplies are already dwindling again. At one point, a lone American Indian turns up, and the cowboys capture him, hoping that he can lead them to water. But Meek insists that this is only a trap, and it will lead to an Indian attack. Will the thirsty travelers make it through?

The movie gives thoughtful viewers plenty to ponder, and plenty of situations in the story have two right answers, but no definitive one. This is probably Reichardt's biggest movie, with her brightest cast yet, and she gets some fine performances with her intelligent dialogue. The scenery is exquisite, even as it's harsh. It's not the witty, violent, suspenseful Western that True Grit was, but it's a small, pointed poem and very much worth the trouble.

Meek's Cutoff screened as part of the 54nd San Francisco International Film Festival.

This is one movie I was looking forward to seeing again. Oscilloscope released a two-disc set with a Blu-Ray and a DVD. The quality is amazing, and preserves Reichardt's 1.37:1 aspect ratio. Extras include a making-of featurette, and a trailer, plus a liner notes essay by Richard Hell.

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