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Meek’s Cutoff Early Reviews: “Beckettian Harshness,” Williams Is “Show-Stealingly Brilliant”

Meek's Cutoff Early Reviews: "Beckettian Harshness," Williams Is "Show-Stealingly Brilliant"

Kelly Reichardt’s austere western Meek’s Cutoff hits theatres April 8. A roundup of early reviews is below.

The director collaborates again with her Wendy and Lucy star Michelle Williams, who talks about working with friend Reichardt here. Zoe Kazan and Paul Dano co-star in the film; here’s the Meek’s Cutoff trailer, and my Venice Film Fest reaction:

A strong woman emerges from the background in Kelly Reichardt’s frontier saga. A three-wagon train heading for Oregon takes a side route and winds up lost, under the leadership of unreliable guide Meek (Bruce Greenwood, under a Joaquin Phoenix beard). As the families struggle to find water, the men capture an Indian and battle over what to do with him. Michelle Williams is strong, fierce, intelligent, and moral. And her husband Will Patton trusts her. But can they trust the Indian they pick up to guide them? Reichardt’s most provocative film is also her most accessible to date and a must-see.

Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian:

“an eerie and disturbing film, a western, of sorts, and a bleak one. It’s a film which has something of The Searchers in its DNA, and could also be compared to Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood, and there are even sense-memories of the children’s pioneer classic Little House on the Prairie, although in much grimmer form. In its severity and gloom it reminded me of something Gilbert Adair wrote about John Sayles’s austere movie Limbo, that it was a sort of North American movie-making which had managed to expunge every smidgen of Hollywood glitz…It is a film of great tension, and almost Beckettian harshness on the barest of stages. The ending was something that divided audiences a little, but I look forward to returning to this fascinating, and tremendously well-made film when it is released here.”

Robert Beames, ObsessedWithFilm:

“a sparse film of long walks and little dialogue. We witness the hardships endured by those early pioneers as simple tasks, like finding water and moving a wagon safely downhill, take hours and back-breaking effort. This certainly feels authentic and manages to avoid Dances With Wolves/Avatar/Pocahontas cliché in its depiction of the two intersecting worlds. Even as one character comes to want to understand the Indian, he remain unknowable and perhaps even dangerous…Michelle Williams, who is working with the director for a second time, is absolutely, show-stealingly brilliant in her role as one of the travellers. Her face able to register a look of resentment and contempt the likes of which I have never seen.”

Nick Schager, Slant:

Meek’s Cutoff is an act of inversion, a western that reverses the genre’s traditional forms and dynamics to create something new and startling, yet still familiar…That mood is amplified by Chris Blauvelt’s gorgeous breaking-dawn, twilight, and nocturnal panoramas of the imposing Oregonian landscape, which doesn’t so much reflect its characters’ desires, misgivings, and anxieties (à la Anthony Mann) so much as simply serve as an indifferent, hostile battleground for what eventually becomes a minimalist saga of faith, trust, sacrifice, altruism, and the essential difficulty of comprehending another’s heart…uncertainty about the authentic nature and motivations of its characters elevates Meek’s Cutoff into something more ruminative, indistinct, and unsettling than its political metaphors initially suggest. And had Reichardt opted to craft three-dimensional protagonists as well, her film might have approached the spartan masterpiece it frequently seems poised to become.”

Deborah Young, THR:

“Michelle Williams creates a true heroine in Emily Tetherow,…the absence of Widescreen is felt like a punishment. Reichardt’s unintuitive choice to shoot the film in an almost square TV-size format gives the immense wide open spaces of the West an uncomfortable claustrophobia, adding to a foreboding atmosphere that pervades the trek…
The clash of civilizations competing for the same land – the Native Americans and the encroaching colonists, who aspire to have the territory declared as part of America – is a principal theme here, worked out in a subtly modern, progressive key. Missing is a touch of John Ford’s warmth and humor.”

Andrew O’Hehir, Salon:

“You’re either in or you’re out, and you’ll know which. As an opening credit stitched in embroidery tells us — and it really is embroidery, not some digital facsimile
Meek’s Cutoff feels from the beginning like one of those slow-developing, deep-focus American landscape movies, of the kind identified with director Terrence Malick. It is, but it also isn’t. In this quiet, beautiful and terrifying fable about a group of lost pioneers, Reichardt combines epic ambition with a focus on intimate, personal detail…[It] works masterfully with space, time and history. You could call it a thriller or horror movie in extreme slow motion, or a parable that’s more about 2010 than 1845.”

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