Michelle Williams as Emily Tetherow
Bruce Greenwood as Stephen Meek
Will Patton as Soloman Tetherow
Zoe Kazan as Millie Gately
Paul Dano as Thomas Gately
Shirley Henderson as Glory White
Neal Huff as William White
Tommy Nelson as Jimmy White
Rod Rondeaux as The Indian
Directed by Kelly Reichardt
The Making of Meek’s Cutoff
Original Theatrical Trailer
DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Sound
Running Time: 104 Minutes
The following is the official description of the film:
“The year is 1845, the earliest days of the Oregon Trail, and a wagon train of three families has hired mountain man Stephen Meek to guide them over the Cascade Mountains. Claiming to know a shortcut, Meek leads the group on an unmarked path across the high plain desert, only to become lost in the dry rock and sage. Over the coming days, the emigrants face the scourges of hunger, thirst and their own lack of faith in one another’s instincts for survival. When a Native American wanderer crosses their path, the emigrants are torn between their trust in a guide who has proven himself unreliable and a man who has always been seen as a natural born enemy.”
“Meek’s Cutoff” is rated PG for some mild violent content, brief language and smoking.
“Meek’s Cutoff” is a baffling film on a lot of levels. First of all, it features a lot of big, broad, desolate landscapes. You see a lot of wide shots where the settlers walk their covered wagons across the barren, lonely landscape. So I was quite surprised to see that this film was presented in a fullscreen 1.37:1 aspect ratio. It dramatically reduces the scope of the landscape in the picture and looks dramatically reduced on anyone’s widescreen HDTV. It was a strange choice by director Kelly Reichardt.
Second, this movie moves at an incredibly slow pace. In fact, the first 5 to 10 minutes have no dialogue. It went on so long that I started to wonder if there was any dialogue in the film at all. When they finally do speak on rare occasions, it takes a while to figure out what’s even going on.
“Meek’s Cutoff” also is based on a true story. A group of emigrants are led into the wilderness by a guide who gets lost, then they must rely on a Native American prisoner (which I believe is the fictional part) to either lead them to water or certain death. It’s a really interesting concept as every character reacts to their predicament in a different way. But as intriguing as this reality based story is, the way the movie depicts it is just really dull. Reading the Wikipedia article on the incident is actually more interesting. Then the movie ends and never actually tells what happens to the settlers. I suppose it’s left up to you to read up on it and find out, but that doesn’t make it a satisfying movie.
On the positive side, the cast of this film is first rate. You have favorites like Michelle Williams, “Cowboys & Aliens” star Paul Dano, and Will Patton. But the most notable performance is that of Bruce Greenwood as Stephen Meek. Greenwood normally plays the handsome man or the executive or some other clean cut modern man. But here he plays the crazy mountain man in buckskins with wild hair and a beard. He tells stories of murdering Indians in a thick accent as the wagon train moves along. Greenwood is utterly unrecognizable, but it reinforces his range as an actor. I was certainly impressed.
I would mainly recommend “Meek’s Cutoff” to fans of art house films, anyone familiar with the actual history of the Oregon Trail, and fans of Michelle Williams and Bruce Greenwood. Everyone else will most likely be bored by this.
The only bonus feature is a ‘making of’ video. Unfortunately it’s just a lot of behind the scenes footage with no commentary and no interviews. While you get a lot of insight into how they shot the movie in the wilderness, there’s not a lot beyond that.