Monday May 2 at 7pm
Directed by Kelly Reichardt. With Michelle Williams, Bruce Greenwood, Paul Dano
USA 2010, 35mm, color, 104 min.
Kelly Reichardt’s latest film reaffirms her status as one of the most significant and truly “independent” voices in contemporary American cinema. Expanding the revisionist Western tradition that reached a highpoint in the late 1960s with The Shooting (1968), Monte Hellman’s stark meditation on violence, Meek’s Cutoff turns radically away from the genre’s traditional focus on male-centered action narratives to offer a stripped down and increasingly abstract tale of three families during their long and uncertain journey along the Oregon Trail. A quietly riveting evocation of what it means to become utterly lost, Meek’s Cutoff nevertheless finds a gravitational center of sorts in Michelle Williams, following up her inspired performance in Reichardt’s celebrated Wendy and Lucy, as a young wife trying to make sense of the family’s wayward path and the cloud of suspicion gathering around their eponymous guide Stephen Meek. Reichardt’s decision to shoot in the traditional Academy ratio of 1.33:1 imparts to the film an aura of classical Hollywood while refusing the sweeping panoramic, widescreen vistas that were so important to the Fifties revival of the Western. On one level a sophisticated feminist reply to the Western genre, Meek’s Cutoff is also a brilliant study in narrative minimalism that builds meaning and tension in its fragmentary dialogue and gives staccato emphasis to selective talismanic details of the would-be settlers’ quotidian routines. – Haden Guest