Meek’s Cutoff (2010)

Rating: D-

Dir: Kelly Reichardt
Star: Michelle Williams, Bruce Greenwood, Rod Rondeaux, Shirley Henderson

This appears to be the first re-creation to depict travelling the Oregon Trail in real time. Or perhaps it just seems that way, because there is an awful lot of walking around here, to the extent that it likely rivals The Lord of the Rings trilogy in the sheer amount of traipsing. And when they’re not traipsing, they’re bickering, with guide Meek (Greenwood), who has led the White family and their 1840’s pioneer pals, off-grid on their way to Oregon. As a result, they’re apparently lost, running low on supplies (though fortunately not on bonnets) and increasingly irritable.

They capture a native, with the intent of using him to lead them to water, though getting that concept over is an issue in itself, considering their idea of communication entirely involves speaking English loudly at him. But can they trust him? Will he deliver them? Or is he leading them into worse peril? The film’s finish, which completely fails to answer any of the above questions, is an accurate summary of the problems here. Admittedly, my disgruntled reaction is perhaps as much a problem with expectations as anything: but you have a cover with a chick pointing a gun, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to expect some degree of resolution, rather than 100+ minutes of existential, non-narrative meandering without a significant point.

Its closest cousin could be Walkabout, but that worked in a whole number of ways that this doesn’t: yes, this would have been somewhat enlivened by the presence of a nekkid Jenny Agutter. Here, Reichardt instead seems intent on deconstructing the concept of the Western, even down to shooting the film in 4:3, which you never even see on TV these days. Throw in non-existent “natural” lighting plus poor sound, and you get the sense it was shot on someone’s cellphone. By the end, a nice outbreak of dysentery would have come as a blessed relief.