Wednesday 20 October 2010

Review: Meek’s Cutoff (2010) @ the London Film Festival

With the stunning Meek’s Cutoff (2010), Kelly Reichardt brings the same considered, thoughtful, slow-burn approach to historical drama that she brought to her superb contemporary-set films, Old Joy (2006) and Wendy and Lucy (2008). As compelling as those two movies were, they don’t quite prepare the viewer for the awesome dramatic power and intensity of Meek’s Cutoff, a work of astounding scope and breadth and beauty. Set in 1845, it’s the story of three families who’ve broken off the “main-stem” of the Oregon Trail and are being conducted by a mountain-man, Stephen Meek, over the Cascade Mountains. With water and food supplies running low, the families have lost faith in Meek’s abilities to get them to their destination, and when the group encounter a lone Indian on the trail, they capture him to use as a guide to the terrain.

Reichardt’s images are extraordinary: mythic, sometimes Malickian, but never held so long that they seem overly-composed. The movie breathes and flows, and it makes the viewer alert to every mood, every moment of tenderness, every shift in power among the group. (The final shift comes at the movie’s brilliantly- judged conclusion, where it’s recognised by a character we never believed could make that acknowledgement, and it’s an unforgettable, quietly heroic moment.) The film also has the advantage of a beauty of a screenplay by the director’s regular collaborator Jon Raymond and performances - from Michelle Williams, Will Patton, Paul Dano, Shirley Henderson, Ron Rondeaux and Bruce Greenwood (almost unrecognisable as the wild-haired, shaggy-bearded Meek) - that simply couldn’t be bettered. Engrossing, haunting and convincing in every detail, this is a masterpiece.


  1. I cant wait to see this one!!!!!
    just caught LEAVING tonight...Scott Thomas was wonderful
    Serge Lopez..... sexy as hell!!!!!!

  2. I really can't recommend it highly enough.

  3. Excellent - when is this getting a proper release?

    The atmosphere of Old Joy was...a joy

    And I gave Wendy and Lucy a second late night viewing recently-ish, which was lovely.

    Like great ambient music, I love when a film contains space and distance within it to create a complex yet incredibly respectable relationship with it's audience.

  4. Thanks for the comment! I totally agree with what you say about the need for "space and distance" in a film - I seem to require that more and more these days. Funnily enough I was just reading an interview with Claire Denis in which she talks about that very thing: "A film that grabs you and holds you tight and never gives you the freedom to move ... for me something is missing here. There must be, in film, a certain distance, so that you have to step into it..."

    No exact release date for MEEK yet, sadly. It will be out sometime next year.

    Did you get a chance to see LE REFUGE? It's out on DVD very soon.

  5. Lovely - Claire Denis is such an eloquent and grounded interviewee.

    And I agree, as my development and knowledge of cinema grows, the space and distance is much more important - cheap tricks and twists fail to impress me so much nowadays haha but it's nice to see we (and countless others) share this natural progression.

    It's on my rental list - shall slot it accordingly into high priority status....