A small group of settlers turn from the Oregon Trail to take a shortcut, led by the grandtalker Meek (Bruce Greenwood). When their water starts to run out in the middle of the desert, they don’t really know what to do and neither does Meek. But they notice that there is a Native American (Rod Rondeaux) following them. After Emily (Michelle Williams) makes first contact with him, they both run off. But the men decide that he should lead them to water and capture him.
After Wendy and Lucy*, I expected a lot from this film. So much that I watched it, even though I really couldn’t care less about the genre itself, actually. Unfortunately, I was disappointed. I had to fight to stay awake several times and was generally pretty bored.
The film ends with the settlers still in the middle of the desert, still lost and still without water, though there is a tree that indicates water is close. The group now has to decide whether they will continue to follow the Native American or not. I think a lot of people were frustrated by the ending (or non-ending) of the film, at least judging by the exasperated sighs in the audience. I actually quite liked the ending – everybody has to decide for themselves whether they will trust a leader they can’t understand.
And the movie was beautifully shot. I like to look at deserts and Reichardt and her cinematographer Chris Blauvelt set it in scene beautifully.
It also seemed to me that the movie was incredibly accurate in its historical details. Not that I’m any expert but it felt very correct.
And the actors were pretty fantastic, too. Though Paul Dano was tragically underused.
It was also amazing how they managed to have the Native American remain an alien figure in the film, as much as he was for the settlers. You never understand his motivations, you never know more than the settlers themselves.
But despite all of these good things, Meek’s Cutoff remains utterly boring.The movie trudges on, never reaching any kind of climax, or even only an emotional spike. You never really get to know the people on the trail and I just couldn’t bring myself to really care about their plight.
Summarising: You can skip it. Unless you’re really into the whole time period.
*May I use this opportunity to point out that I would like to retcon my review of Wendy and Lucy? I have come to think that Michelle Williams was absobloodylutely fantastic in it. I believe that after first seeing it, I was so affected by her performance, I had to push it away a little bit.