Meek's Cutoff ★★½

Meek's Cutoff is a montage of seductive landscape paintings masquerading as a movie. Perhaps it knows that if it does nothing it can't be accused of doing anything wrong. Critics often mistake inertia for high-art. The performances, photography and score are excellent. It's an easy film to admire, but the inherent tension in the story is thwarted by a plodding pace, overused wide shots that keep the characters at a distance, and a director too afraid to draw any substantial insights from her material.

Three couples in the West are travelling through harsh terrain trying to survive. They're led by a story-telling guide who might not actually know where he's taking them. As water becomes scarce paranoia sets in, and the travellers begin to believe that they're being covertly followed.

If director Kelly Reichardt wanted to give us an impression of the hardships facing American settlers in 1845, she's succeeded on that score. In fact, if you took all the walking shots out of this movie you'd have a 30 minute film (or shorter). The juxtaposition of the settlers and their wagons set against the inhabitable terrain is executed nicely, similar to Picnic at Hanging Rock, but Picnic was dreamlike and lyrical, with a palpable sense of dread that grew as the situation deteriorated. Meek's Cutoff promises to be these things but ultimately Reichardt doesn't have the courage to be bold, so it remains a postcard movie; visually sumptuous, authentic, but not fully realised and ultimately very dull.

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