Revelation Perth International Film Festival – Meek’s Cutoff review

Meek’s Cutoff – Starring Michelle Williams, Bruce Greenwood and Will Patton. Directed by Kelly Reichardt. By Simon Miraudo.

Meek’s Cutoff plays the Revelation Perth International Film Festival on Saturday 16 July and Friday 22 July.

Some are saying that ‘nothing happens’ in Kelly Reichardt’s Meek’s Cutoff, a slow burn drama about a group of wannabe-settlers wandering the desert in the hopes of finding the promise land. I say, ‘everything happens’. Sure, it’s an exaggeration, but so is the claim that ‘nothing happens’, and I daresay my hyperbole is more accurate. This is a film where life and death decisions are made at every turn; where the very concepts of religion and humanity are dissected in gorgeously subtle yet devastating ways. Reichardt, famously (yet incorrectly) regarded as a lowkey visual director, delivers the most sumptuous looking film of the year so far (courtesy of DOP Chris Blauvelt). Stars Michelle Williams and Bruce Greenwood – as well as the rest of the small ensemble cast – deliver some of the best performances; underplayed until they are required to explode. Nothing happens. Pfft. This is life, people; this is the world. That is the most we can ask for in movies, and Meek’s Cutoff delivers.

Williams, Paul Dano, Shirley Henderson, Neal Huff, Zoe Kazan and Will Patton star as settlers wandering the Oregon Trail in the mid-1800s; looking for a “new Eden”, as promised by their tracker Stephen Meek (Greenwood). Although Meek may have once been a charismatic and convincing force, when we meet the group they are debating whether or not to hang him for leading them to certain death. They’ve no choice but to keep on trusting him and follow him into nothingness. But as their water supply dries up, so does their faith in their once infallible leader, and they make some desperate decisions that could either lead to salvation or unimaginable horror.

This quiet and very slow moving picture resonated deeply with me. Seeing these people forced to confront their mortality and evaluate how long until their time runs out (at the end of each of their fruitless days) was an exhausting exercise, but a rewarding one. Ultimately, it’s a religious parable, in which men and women of faith meet death head on, and do some last minute soul-searching, wondering if their ‘deity’ was lying to them all along about that paradise he promised. As Williams’ settler says of Meek, “I don’t blame him for not knowing; I blame him for saying he did”. Even more heartbreaking is Meek’s comment later in the film: “We’re all just playing our parts. This was written long before.”

4.5/5

Check out Simon’s other reviews here.

*NB: I viewed Meek’s Cutoff at the 2011 Sydney Film Festival. This review was partly written during the festival, and published on the fourth day of the fest. I have expanded on my original feelings in time for its debut at Revelation.

Meek’s Cutoff plays the Revelation Perth International Film Festival on Saturday 16 July and Friday 22 July.

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