Meek's Cutoff ★★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.

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