Kelly’s Reichardt’s moody, contemplative, languidly paced and low-key Western Meek’s Cutoff – more appropriately an anti-Western, for its subtle but discernible deconstructions of gender and race stereotypes typically associated with the genre – is filmmaking at its most minimalist; and, it’s defiantly opaque too given the narrative’s shrouding under psychological and contextual ambiguity and the refusal to provide much in the way of expositions. Loosely based on the 1845 Oregon Trail – apart from a title card at the beginning, one would need to rely on external readings to know about this historical incident – it’s centered on three settler families travelling across the Oregon High Desert, led by fur trapper and frontier guide Stephen Meek (Bruce Greenwood). We’re never sure where they’re coming from and where they’re headed to, or how they’re connected to each other, or what compelled them in the first place into embarking on this immensely onerous journey; all we know is that they’re lost, they’re abysmally short on water, and they’re having serious doubts about Meek’s credibility despite his pompous braggadocio. The traditional power dynamics of the group – so far defined by the frontierman at the helm and the men who’re family heads by default – however, starts shifting when a Native American gets captured. Though distrusted, vilified and repulsively treated with typically racist violence – their misdemeanours being ironically exactly what they stereotypically accuse him of – it soon emerges that his knowledge of this harsh, unknown terrain might be their sole hope for survival. And this dynamic shift is complete when Emily (Michelle Williams, in a fiercely resolute turn), viz. a woman, stands up for the “Indian” against the white male power structure of the microcosmic wagon train.
Director: Kelly Reichardt
Genre: Drama/Western/Psychological Western