Occasionally you get a more realistic glimpse of the Old West. This is one of those times. The story of settlers winding their wagon trains west is rarely realised in such minute detail. Meek’s Cutoff does just this, revealing how hard that journey must have been. Michelle Williams reunites with Wendy and Lucy writer/director for another feel-good, date movie of the year. If you’ve seen the director's previous film you’ll know that’s a joke, since the outlook in Meek’s Cutoff is, once more, particularly bleak.
It is 1845 and three wagons head west through
Oregon. The group’s
guide is Stephen Meek (Bruce Greenwood) whose leadership skills are coming into
question as they become lost and their search for water becomes desperate.
It is a very capable cast. The likes of Paul Dano and Shirley Henderson deliver the requisite authenticity. Will Hutton, who I instantly equate with big dumb Jerry Bruckheimer flicks, teams with Reichardt again, proving himself a very watchable character actor. Bruce Greenwood is believably gruff and woolly as Meek.
However, I’m beginning to think that Kelly Reichardt just doesn’t know how to end a film. I won’t give away anything but there is no pay-off or resolution, just doubt and pessimism. A bit like in Wendy and Lucy. There’s a difference between a downbeat ending and one that totally cheats the viewer. I haven’t felt as robbed since (and this is probably a controversial view) Michael Haneke’s Hidden – a film that similarly built towards a climax that never appeared. Saying that, the process of getting to this non-existent climax is rather fascinating. It won’t be to everyone’s taste: a simple act of say, crossing a river, is seen in a very long take. The wagons are led through the water by the male actors and the women, in their bonnets and all, wade through holding precious items aloft to keep them dry. Although some of the locations are spectacular Reichardt’s shooting style is not, and this only adds to the realism. If you have the patience for it, what results is bold, original and quite a mesmerising experience. (But it's a shame about the ending.)