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Meek's Cutoff (2010)

PG | | Drama, Western | 15 April 2011 (UK)
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Settlers traveling through the Oregon desert in 1845 find themselves stranded in harsh conditions.

Director:

Kelly Reichardt

Writer:

Jonathan Raymond (screenplay) (as Jon Raymond)
7 wins & 14 nominations. See more awards »

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Cast

Complete credited cast:
Michelle Williams ... Emily Tetherow
Bruce Greenwood ... Stephen Meek
Will Patton ... Soloman Tetherow
Zoe Kazan ... Millie Gately
Paul Dano ... Thomas Gately
Shirley Henderson ... Glory White
Neal Huff ... William White
Tommy Nelson ... Jimmy White
Rod Rondeaux Rod Rondeaux ... The Indian
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Storyline

The year is 1845, the earliest days of the Oregon Trail, and a wagon team of three families has hired the mountain man Stephen Meek to guide them over the Cascade Mountains. Claiming to know a short cut, Meek leads the group on an unmarked path across the high plain desert, only to become lost in the dry rock and sage. Over the coming days, the emigrants must face the scourges of hunger, thirst and their own lack of faith in each other's instincts for survival. When a Native American wanderer crosses their path, the emigrants are torn between their trust in a guide who has proven himself unreliable and a man who has always been seen as the natural enemy. Written by Oscilloscope

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Genres:

Drama | Western

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated PG for some mild violent content, brief language and smoking | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »
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Details

Country:

USA

Language:

English

Release Date:

15 April 2011 (UK) See more »

Also Known As:

Meek's Oregon 1845 Cutoff See more »

Filming Locations:

Oregon, USA See more »

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Box Office

Opening Weekend USA:

$20,042, 10 April 2011, Limited Release

Gross USA:

$977,600, 21 August 2011
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Dolby Digital

Color:

Color

Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Loosely based on a true incident involving trail guide Stephen Meek and a band of settlers in 1845. See more »

Goofs

In an early scene with the three women walking, there was abundant Russian thistle on the ground. The film was set in 1845, but Russian thistle (Salsola tragus) wasn't introduced to the United States until arriving in South Dakota in 1870 or 1874, as weed seed in flaxseed imported from Russia. See more »

Quotes

[first lines]
Jimmy White: [reading from Genesis] In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return. And Adam called his wife's name Eve, because she was the mother of all living.
See more »

Connections

Featured in Maltin on Movies: Awards Special 2012 (2012) See more »

Soundtracks

Nearer, My God, To Thee
(uncredited)
Written by Sarah F. Adams and Lowell Mason
Performed by Neal Huff
See more »

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User Reviews

 
A near masterpiece
22 April 2011 | by ecstatic-tickleSee all my reviews

'Who knows what's over that hill? Could be water, could be an army of heathens…blood or water' – the words of Stephen Meek, a hardened pioneer of the Western front, whose name is more than a slight contradiction of character. The year is 1845 and Meek is the guide for members of three families who have left the settlements on the thriving Eastern Seaboard of America and are now undertaking the last leg of their long journey, through Oregon desert. Although they are at the brink of their destination – the uncertainty of their route, the need for food and water, and more than anything the threat of Indigenous tribes – is deeply felt.

Kelly Reichardt has been an intriguing presence on the independent scene for several years now. While sparse and potentially esoteric, her previous films Old Joy and Wendy and Lucy felt very unique, rich in atmosphere and subtext. This one, shot in the 4:3 aspect ratio – this is clearly not about gorgeous panoramic Western vistas, but an arid environment and sense of isolation, constriction and fear that the characters can't escape. The cinematography is enveloping – every image and sound has clarity of intent and authenticity that's impressive, but not mechanical, there's a level of artistry here that's seamless.

Reichardt has done a remarkable job. The way in which we first encounter this group has an almost voyeuristic dimension. We observe them bringing their belongings across the river, cages and basket across, a woman pregnant. The classic wagon vehicle. We see the necessity they feel to wade through and continue on their journey no matter what. Reichardt's not interested in fulfilling the conventions of the genre or even screen writing at large – nothing is indicated, nothing is too obvious – and the decisions she makes in terms structure and thematic elements are felt on a subliminal level, right up until the final shot. By defying expectations of the genre and her film becomes all the more engrossing.

This is quite a simple story about people with simple customs and practical needs – driven by a need to fulfill their 'Manifest Destiny' – the inherent right they feel to colonize this new land. Setting off on the journey, Meek himself tries to enforce his high status, telling the youngsters cautionary tales of bears and brutes and emitting a seemingly affable macho persona. For the rest of the group, there is a sense of communal obligation and not too much time for soul-searching or camaraderie. Reichardt does not draw attention to anything - whether it be the name actors she has playing these very pared down roles or the multitude of themes and messages running beneath the surface.

Among the eclectic ensemble of actors in the film is Michelle Williams, Reichardt's muse previously on Wendy and Lucy – who continues to go from strength to strength in proving her versatility and conviction as an actress. Here she plays Emily Tethero – a young mother on this trek, and eventual moral compass for the audience. She's invisible in the role - in the best sense; there is no big announcement or introductory close-up of her arrival on screen as 'Two-Time Academy Award®-nominee Michelle Williams', now playing dress-up in the desert – the blatant heroine of the piece. No, Reichardt is smart and knows how to treat the audience with intelligence, she does not indicate anything. However, as the narrative unfolds, Emily's increasing speculation over their route, her concerns about water and private ideas of gender roles makes her an adversary for Meek.

These tensions come to a head however when they encounter a Native American Indian. From the moment this happens – Williams' character immediately decides to take very practical action to the threat. But soon enough this Cherokee man becomes a possession for the group, an entity they fear so intensely yet cannot let go of – they interrogate him to find out the route, to know of any more like him who may attempt to destroy. The fear of the Other is palpable and the ultimate intent of the film is revealed.

However, Emily Tethero is the one who listens to him – she hears him praying despite not understanding his words, she also repairs his shoe. She begins to become more lenient with him, despite her upbringing and societal beliefs. As the group's situation begins to become more desperate - these various gestures and allowances enrage Meek – with a turbulent dynamic beginning to form and some consequence and yet it never descends into hysterics.

If the job of the artist is to deepen the mystery - then Kelly Reichardt has succeeded. By the end of this film there are no clear answers. There is no sense of the world being set to rights by this story, the film does not presume that what it is has to say about race relations (still relevant in 2011 and beyond) is closing the book on the topic, not for the characters, nor the audience. The film is not about these people's ultimate destination because the sense of closure and satisfaction felt at the end of most movies is an illusion - an entertaining one, which we can suspend our disbelief to enjoy, but an illusion nonetheless. Here that kind of compromise is not necessary, and to witness this on screen is like a window into the past.


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