Meek’s Cutoff story is as bleak as the vast wasteland of Oregon that is played out in. Its 1845 and three pioneer families have hired a guide, Stephen Meek, to lead them through the Cascade Mountains, but it soon becomes obvious that he doesn’t really know where he is taking them. Running out of food, water and patience the men folk are so agitated they even discuss lynching Meek and trying their own luck, but then they come across a Native Indian and despite the fact they consider and treat him like a dangerous enemy, it becomes clear that he possibly may in fact be their salvation.
This is the third feature from Miami born filmmaker Kelly Reichardt that uses Oregon as the setting, possibly because it is as uncompromising as the stories she films. Her commitment to reality shines through with the sweeping panoramic cinematography which she combines with some dramatically lit close-up shots, and the uncompromisingly minute detail such as the hats the women wear that are so authentic but also often block out their faces from view. She succeeded in making the struggle for these families very real, and was helped by the quiet and understated terrific performances from Michelle Williams (who also starred in Reichardt’s superb Wendy & Lucy) and Brit actor Shirley Henderson.
R.T.V. The movie is quiet and slow-placed and unlike any western I have ever seen. It’s also one of those movies that doesn’t fully register with you at the time, but resonates in your mind for days after.