Meek’s cutoff is an odd but impressive piece of indie cinema. Effectively an ensemble film it follows a group of waggoners on their way out west in the early days of the American colonies. Employing the services of a grizzled guide they have split from the main trunk route, presumably in promise of a swifter journey to the (comparatively) lush Cascade Mountains. We find them stuck in the high, arid deserts of Middle America, surrounded by sage plants and a whole lot of nothing else.
The travellers comprise three couples (one with an eleven-year-old boy) and the guide, Meek. The joy of this film is in exploring the way these eight (later nine) people form and split groups. Together the travellers are a separate group from Meek, a man who belongs to these wilds, which they seek only to cross. Whilst they become are united against Meek’s increasingly apparent incompetence, everyone has a different idea about what to do next. For whilst they may travel together, each family collects it’s own wood, does it’s own cooking and remains an autonomous unit. And yet one more layer is formed: whilst the men scout, and hunt, the women come together to form their own set. It is here that Reichardt’s Western most obviously differs from the rest of the, as we see the story from the women’s perspective. When the men gather to make important decisions, the camera remains with the women and we too can only hear mumbled snatches of these life-and-death conversations.
Reichardt’s film is slow – something it warns you of upfront with a brave single opening shot that lasts several minutes – and the story exists only to provide the basic motivation for the characters: this is by no means a plot driven film. Instead Reichardt draws out powerful performances (albeit from a cast of indie stalwarts) in a deft and thorough examination of what is probably the real West – no hijinks, few guns, and a group of increasingly desperate, but ordinary people.
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Directed by: Kelly Reichardt
Featuring: Michelle Williams, Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan, Shirley Henderson
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James performs a plethora of tasks for Raindance; writing articles, editing the newsletter, managing Twitter, helping on courses, organising volunteers and running the script services are but a few of the ones he is allowed to tell you about.
When he isn’t daydreaming about daylight he watches films (well, duh!) reads a bit, writes a bit and kicks arse at ultimate Frisbee.
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