Today: February 20, 2024

Meek's Cut Off

Trying to explain the premise of Kelly Reichardt’s new feature to a six year old is no easy task. “So they’re just walking through the dessert?” “Yes.” “And it’s not funny or exciting or sad?” “No.””That sounds really normal.”

Trying to explain the premise of Kelly Reichardt’s new feature to a
six year old is no easy task. “So they’re just walking through the
dessert?” “Yes.” “And it’s not funny or exciting or sad?” “No.””That
sounds really normal.”

And the small person is completely right. Meek’s Cutoff showcases a
streak of modestly accomplished actors, is set across a woefully barren
landscape, and yet in the greater scheme of things is very very
uneventful. The Meek in the title is Stephen (Greenwood) a hairy rogue leading a string of untrusting pilgrims over the Cascade Mountains in 1985. With no plain hint of a backstory
we join these travellers, scared, worn and frustrated as they stumble
over bare terrain with the simple hope that solitude is not far away.
Leading this small pack (performance wise at least) is Michelle Williams
as Emily Tetherow, wife to Will Paton’s Solomon and the small force
pushing her people forward. With the awards buzz quietly humming after
her role in Blue Valentine Williams is quite mesmerising as the voice of
the group, balancing anguish with a forced sense of rationale as
emotions begin to fray amongst her people. The oppression of her role as
wife limits her sway on events but this is the character you connect
with the most as despair and confusion are allowed free reign.

Morale is further disrupted with the discovery and capture of a
Native American who has been following the party for reasons unknown.
Deciding they can no longer trust the instincts of Meek after a lengthy
runaround, what ensues is a lengthy dilemma as to whether their native
prisoner (Rondeaux) would lead them to water or an awaiting bloodthirsty tribe.

It’s an exhausting scenario and Reichardt seems to revel in
it; sparing no shortcuts as you’re dragged through the daily torment
undergone by our characters. There’s little dialogue, the focus
lingering uncomfortably on the daily tasks of survival; washing, hunting
and the sort of walking that makes the quest to Mordor look like a
leisurely stroll. And this bloated account of affairs, based attentively
on diary entries from the time, would be justifiable if any insight
into the narrative outside of the film were provided. Like the motive
for enduring these harsh conditions. Or insight into the characters
themselves. Or where they’re going. Instead you’re dropped right in to
feel your own way around. This may be to highlight the sense of the
unknown shared by the group but instead it’s a wave of irritation that
you are unable to sympathises with a group of people you know so little
about. Brief observations into Paul Dano’s Thomas and his young bride
and the barely visibly baby bump of Zoe Kazan’s character offer little
more than a glimpse what could have been a far more complex structure of
emotions within the central characters, which is what this film needs
to work.

The only development that’s remotely interesting bar the mounting
despair of said Pilgrims is the wordless relationship between Emily and
the native, fueled by curiosity and risk . But there’s no point even
divulging in this because by the time the plot drags itself to a
juncture which ultimately seals the fate of the travellers; whether they
should stick with Meek or risk their lives in the hands of the native,
Reichardt decides to end it. By which point it’s hard to decide which
is worse, that Meek’s Cutoff fails to meet a conclusion or that you
aren’t too concerned for these people either way.

Beth Webb - Events Editor

I aim to bring you a round up of the best film events in the UK, no matter where you are or what your preference. For live coverage of events across London, follow @FilmJuice

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