Meek’s Cutoff (2011)

The Indie version of ‘Unforgiven’.

Set in 1845, this drama follows a group of settlers as they embark on a punishing journey along the Oregon Trail. When their guide leads them astray, the expedition is forced to contend with the unforgiving conditions of the high plain desert.

I never thought that the computer-game that I had so much fun with back in the days of computer class, that the real story its based off of was so depressing. I mean having to kill all of your livestock right from the get-go for food and having people die of the chicken-pox all the time wasn’t very fun in the game, but in real life it must have really blown.

The poster right there is pretty bad-ass but it gives you the wrong impression. You think that Michelle Williams is going to be blowing fools up this whole time but you soon realize that it takes about an hour to reload the gun in the first place, and killing fools is the last thing on these peoples minds. Honestly, this whole story is just about these settlers looking all over the place for some water. That’s it but for some odd reason it actually works.

Director Kelly Reichardt seems like she was pretty fed-up with all of the non-stop, gun-slinging, and bar-hopping cowboy fools that take over Westerns in today’s world, so she makes this whole flick make it seem like real life. The film is terribly slow and within the first 5 to 10 minutes where nobody’s speaking, you wonder just what the hell you got yourself into in the first place but Reichardt does well with this considering she’s not trying to sell us something fake, she’s actually giving us something that we could use as a “source” for our next history project. The Oregon Trail was real boring and this film moves at just the right snail-pace to give us that feel of just how damn bored and thirsty these effers really were.

Let’s not also forget that this film has some very beautiful landscapes that almost remind me of some wallpapers I would have for the backgrounds on my old computer. We see all of these huge sheets of land where there is barely anything but sand and then it shifts right towards another shot of the sun shining on a prairie giving us this feel of they were totally alone and had nowhere to go. Considering that actual dialogue is pretty rare in this film, the shots actually add a lot to this flick when it comes to its mood and how its approached.

The problem with this film is that since it is so damn slow, there are plenty of moments where I just dozed right off. I mean I don’t know if I wasn’t in the right mood for this film or what, because I did like this film but there were moments where it just felt like this film dragged on and on and on to the point of no return. I get the fact that Reichardt was trying to do something new and hipsterish with this material but in all honesty, there has to be some sort of tension for this flick to actually keep us involved. I also could have done without the whole score because even though it was a tad eerie, I think they placed it random times and really could have been even more effective had there been no music at all.

Also, don’t let me forget the ending which just pissed me off. The film leads up and up and up until we finally get to a place where we weren’t expecting one bit and then it just ends without ever telling us anything about what happened to these settlers. This ending bothered me because I felt like the whole time this film was just leading up to its tension-fueled final moments, but instead it just sort of ended and lost all of the momentum it somehow gained, which was something I was not expecting in the least bit. Another problem was that we never actually get any info on what happened to all of these settlers and I guess we were just supposed to go look it up ourselves, which I did do so I guess I’m the sucker really.

The characters were pretty good and everybody is pretty good, they just don’t have much dialogue for it. Michelle Williams is obviously the star of the show and she’s very funny, realistic, and brave and she does a great job with the material she’s given. One performance I was not expecting to be so good was the one given by Bruce Greenwood as Stephen Meek . Greenwood is almost unidentifiable with his huge beard, wild hair, and mountain-man look but every time he’s on screen, you see him as this dude and it shows a real talent with his acting. I’ve never ever really taken Greenwood as an acting threat but he’s very good here and his scenes with Williams are great, I just wish there were more of them really.

Consensus: Meek’s Cutoff is very good to look at and features a very cool approach to the whole Western genre, however, the slowness may bother a lot and put them to sleep, and the ending isn’t a satisfying conclusion really.



  1. The ending didn’t bother me so much, like these overly ambiguous ones usually do, because it seemed to me that their end was pretty conclusive by that point; all the squabbling and mis-spent momentum didn’t help matters but they were mostly just doomed from the start, though maybe I’m just a nihilist.

    I also disagree that Reichart’s approach was ‘hipsterish’, what she does here is almost the absolute antithesis of something like 500 Days of Summer, a lovely film and the epitome of Hipster filmmaking in my opinion. That said I had much the same problems with the approach that you did, though seeing it in a cinema helped it keep my attention, leaving it quite hypnotizing.

    If you found Kelly’s approach here interesting then check out Wendy and Lucy, she applies the same style to the traveling animal movie which is..linteresting. Would be interested to hear your thoughts on that one man.

  2. I was just about to stream this last night when I saw your review and then thought better of it. If your saying its slow its got to really slow :-0 Thanks for the warning.

  3. Just saw that Quentin Tarantino listed this as one of the worst five films of the year, which is saying something given that his top ten stretched out to include around thirty titles, Green Lantern included.

    It’s certainly a divisive film.

  4. It’s a daring, challenging way to present a film but once seen, it’s fairly easily forgotten. I much preferred True Grit as a sort of feminist Western.

  5. I would like to add my opinions regarding some of the criticism of the film. The movie is slow because so was this group. What better way to explore the boredom and anxieties than to make the film slow. In fact, I’d say that the film is extremely suspenseful.

    Many say that the film does not have an ending. Well, it does. In fact, it has a very powerful pay off. SPOILER ALERT: It is William’s character that finally is given the reigns to steer the group. It is exactly what the film pressed towards the entire time. That is the pay off. The only other ending available is that nearly everyone dies in the end. Not much of a payoff.

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