Meek's Cutoff 2010 ★★½

I've always struggled to explain the appeal of Kelly Reichardt's films (Old Joy and Wendy and Lucy), they are slow bordering on boring, light on plot and often relying on broad characters. Yet, over time, the film slowly creeps up on you and especially in the case of Wendy and Lucy the end result is something far more affecting than its constituent parts would suggest. Meek's Cutoff broadens Reichardt's traditional scope but still carries all of her hallmarks. The film is deathly slow, a usual criticism but one that works here to capture the slow rolling wagons and the hopelessness the group feel when they realise they are lost amongst the vastness of the American landscape. Characters are once again broad, unfortunately a little too much this time, with the main players providing clear roles within the story but little subtlety or grey areas. Stephen Meek, the trail leader, is too crudely drawn as the villain, and whilst the film is obviously more interested in exploring the female’s role within the Western, it is a shame that the men are afforded such little development.

The film does look beautiful though with the foreboding landscape dwarfing the still figures of the homesteaders. Interestingly the film is shot in the now rarely used aspect ratio of 1:1.33 which traps the characters in the frame. Modern convention would shoot such scenery in widescreen but the way the frame imprisons the characters adds greatly to the atmosphere. Performances are strong, the languid pacing creates a beguiling rhythm whilst Reichardt and regular screenwriter, Jonathan Raymond, captures the despair and isolation of the homesteaders, it is just a shame the characters aren't as well developed as they should have been.

10 Comments

  • I scored this one a 4 but had I watched it on a different day in a different mood it could easy have been a 1 or a 2. I agree with you about the characters and there's plenty there that could frustrate but there are also enough interesting factors there to keep you watching

  • I think the enjoyment of all Reichardt's films are dependent on mood really. They are all so slow and often depressing that you need to be in the right frame of mind to appreciate them.

  • Such a crap movie. Hated the aspect ratio and hated the nighttime scenes. Hated it all

  • I don't think I've ever read somebody say they hated an aspect ratio before; that is a real dedication of hate. :)

  • I gave this film a four as well. I completely agree with it being slow, but like you said that to me, it adds to the film. I didn't think that Weny and Lucy was a slow film and I felt that Old Joy had no plot and was not a good film. I think that this film is like Tree of Life with the more you think about it, the more it grows on you and the more you like it. Much like how you changed your opinion on Prometheus and gave it less stars, I think that you might like this film more over time.

  • Possibly, although this review is from a few months ago and my opinion hasn't really changed. I am willing to give it another go though.

  • I loved the aspect ratio. It was purposely restrictive, and designed to reflect the limited perspective of women wearing those bonnets. That, along with the barely audible conversations the men were having off to the side, makes this film probably the only feminist western to my knowledge. I think in light of this the men were intentionally under-developed.

  • @Auteur: An interesting theory and perhaps correct. In truth Reichardt's supporting characters are often quite crudely developed though so maybe it is just a director quirk.

    As for feminist westerns - Johnny Guitar is quite close to being one.

  • Unashamed fan of this film, Adam. I don't think characters are underdeveloped, it's just that she doesn't feel the need to hammer out a character in the normal Hollywood way. It really is a beautiful film, with such a poignant ending.

  • I don't think characters are underdeveloped, it's just that she doesn't feel the need to hammer out a character in the normal Hollywood way.

    True and it isn't a criticism of her other films because I think it works quite well to keep the focus on the protagonist.

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