Meek’s Cutoff Screen 96 of 24 reviews

Meek’s Cutoff

2010

Meek’s Cutoff Poster
  • The film remains anchored in uneasy human moods courtesy of the uniformly exceptional cast, including Reichardt’s muse Michelle Williams and a wild-haired Bruce Greenwood, but what lingers most is the sense of place. It conjures an inescapable ambiguity that all comes together in one of the greatest endings in the history of cinema, one that radically, hauntingly recontextualizes everything that came before.

  • Meek’s Cutoff does not dwell upon the failings of the men as much as it champions the virtues of the women, so often forgotten or reduced to less flattering archetypes in the western. In this verisimilitudinous world, they are more than capable of taking the reins, as we see when Emily (Michelle Williams) proves herself a good shot with a rifle, but propriety prevents it.

  • Not since Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man, which ironically foregrounded the genre’s ties to romanticism with its William Blake-inspired protagonist, has a western so thoroughly eclipsed the farthest reaches of revisionism and become an all-out attack on both the genre and the troubled reality from which it derives.

  • It's an extreme exercise on multiple levels, not merely in the depiction of the outsider. Reichardt’s undecorated aesthetic is of particular significance; Meek’s contains only one interior scene, a conversation between the Teatherows inside their wagon and consisting of a single shot. Every other scene can literally be called undecorated, for Reichardt and her crew have done nothing to affect the landscape, a crackling, rocky, practically treeless terrain that needs no artificial embellishment.

  • It is a Kelly Reichardt movie. But there is also something new here. Diffidence is no longer the prevailing mood, the murmur no longer the prime mode of address. A stone-cold masterpiece, Meek’s Cutoff represents a model evolutionary leap for an artist: the canvas is larger, the ambitions bigger, the movie recognizably and unmistakably the auteur’s.

  • Why do I find it nonstop mesmerizing, even on second viewing? Above and beyond the strange tension Reichardt derives from the sheer arduousness of even simple tasks (previously addressed in my TIFF capsule), there's a relaxed vigor to every shot that forestalls inattention, at least in my case.

  • While neorealism represents as good a theoretical starting point as any when it comes to exploring Reichardt’s deceptively slim oeuvre, it can only be hoped that future analyses go on to address the many wider questions of cinematic realism, genre, feminism, politics, and society raised by her work, and how these fit into and influence both the current state of American independent cinema and contemporary cinema as a whole.

  • Reichardt hones in on intimacy. It's only one way in which she and screenwriter Jon Raymond take a hackneyed genre and strip away the clichés. There are no gunfights, no saloons, no cowboys, and no whorehouses in this Western. Just ordinary folks trying to make a new life for themselves, at the mercy of an indifferent environment and their own doubts.

  • Given the emphasis screenwriter Jon Raymond places on religious fervor, naivete, and xenophobia, the film makes for an effective allegory about the United States' ongoing misdirection in confronting other cultures. Yet Reichardt keeps this so hypnotic from shot to shot that you can easily get wrapped up in it as a sensory experience. As the title character, Bruce Greenwood gives a fascinating and understated performance.

  • If Meek's Cutoff is every inch a Western, it's an art-film mutant of the genre, inching along with intensely naturalistic obsession for detail that courts tedium even as it dares us not to pay attention.

  • Reichardt has always been economical in her approach, a technique that’s surprisingly suited to the ambitious scope of this film. Her imagistic conveyance of isolation (both in location and of the mind) is so haunting, so purgatorial, as to take on the air of a parable for the entire human condition.

  • It's excruciating in the best possible sense, adopting a pace that’s entirely appropriate to the endless expanse, but nonetheless suffused with suspicion and dread every step of the way. It also revels meaningfully in period detail, not just for authenticity’s sake, but as a way of conveying the physical hardships of prairie life. Meticulous and immersive, Meek’s Cutoff feels like history in three dimensions.

  • ++

    MSN: Glenn Kenny
    April 05, 2011 | Critic's Rating: 4/5 | Via Rotten Tomatoes

    A cinematic immersion of both modest and cosmic proportions, beautifully enacted by a cast that makes you fully believe that they are these beleaguered characters, and make you glad that you aren't.

  • An act of inversion, a western that reverses the genre's traditional forms and dynamics to create something new and startling, yet still familiar. Kelly Reichardt's follow-up to Wendy and Lucy reteams her with Michelle Williams for a tale of frontier suspense, albeit the type fostered by eerie silences, imposing environments, barely overheard conversations, and intensely inquisitive gazes.

  • Based on an actual 1845 incident, Kelly Reichardt’s latest road movie (just picked up by Oscilloscope) is a great leap into the void for this talented, quirky New York filmmaker—a minimalist Western with intimations of frontier surrealism and manifest destiny madness.

  • It's a real movie-movie, with star performances and literal life-or-death stakes, but it's also without a doubt a Kelly Reichardt movie—an austere, visually stunning mood piece, deliberately paced and extraordinarily textured. (Chris Blauvelt's tactile photography renders the dust and heat of the plains so vividly that you can feel the dryness of skin and mouths.) Narratively enigmatic, if thematically rather on-the-nose, Meek's was still, to my mind, the best American feature at the festival.

  • Working from the historical record, Reichardt and Raymond have constructed a narrative that is at once spare yet highly faithful—an organizing principle that extends to the work of production designer David Doernberg and costume designer Victoria Farrell. In its approach to reconstructing period, Meek’s Cutoff shares some of the same hallowed ground occupied by Lancelot du lac (1974), The Marquise of O (1976), and the films of Peter Watkins, triumphs of verisimilitude over embellishment.

  • The story of a fragile community stranded in the desert by a fear-mongering charlatan could have been settled for facile political allegory, yet Reichardt is after something more uncanny and mysterious. Filmed with a rapt severity worthy of Ermanno Olmi's The Tree of the Wooden Clogs, hers is a horror-western where the minimalist subtly grows into the hallucinatory.

  • Reichardt has revealed herself a master in the Sjöström mold, of exploring the dynamic between humans and the landscape and humans and themselves within it. The key difference, among many, is that Meek’s Cutoff’s contests of will and self-questioning through the world are as much about the interior states of its characters as it is about the world outside the films, here and now in 2010.

  • Watching "Meek's Cutoff," I did think about the bombast of a great movie about the expanding West, like Paul Thomas Anderson's "There Will Blood," and how this movie feels somehow, in its unpronounced finery and its denying us too much context, like something private, something remembered. Which is not to say that Reichardt is incapable of grandeur. The final shot is one of the most evocative and apt images used to capture the tragic solitude of the American West.

  • This much can be said of Meek's Cutoff: It conveys what must have been the tedium and the frustration, not to mention the danger, of crossing the not-entirely mapped (or conquered) United States with a vividness and conviction that few films have matched.

  • Like all of Reichardt’s work, Meek’s Cutoff leaves viewers in a state of charged indeterminacy. Her films—minimalist, elusive, cool to the touch, yet stirring—beg multiple viewings. Surely a second look at Meek’s Cutoff will not provide “the answers,” and may put into sharper relief its minor but present flaws: the slightly uneven cast (Williams, Greenwood, and Patton consistently wow; the others less so), the moments when Reichardt’s distanced approach tilts a bit toward the studied.

  • Simultaneously cerebral and astonishingly cinematic, a historical road movie that stretches the inhospitable landscapes and marginal living of Wendy and Lucy (2008) in intriguing directions... While its overarching ambiguity can infuriate, most notably in a daring and frustratingly oblique ending, it's also its strongest suit. What's manifest in Meek's Cutoff isn't destiny, but the difficulty of gauging truth, whether it concerns what's over the hill, or within a human heart.

  • On a formal level, Meek's Cutoff, the fourth feature from Kelly Reichardt, is admittedly some kind of masterpiece... If I find myself less than completely overwhelmed by this film, however…well, to a certain extent, chalk it up to the film's ending, which only served to crystallize issues that I had throughout the film that, in the end, I find myself unable to easily slough off despite the film's visual and formal beauties.

More Links