Tuesday, April 12, 2011


In Kelly Reichardt's latest film (which is her first film set outside of the present day) we follow three families who try to cross the Oregon Trail with the help of a tracker, who gives off the vibe that he hasn't got a clue where he's going (no matter how much he brags and boasts about how well he knows the land). Naturally the characters suffer some setbacks along the way and they eventually end up capturing a Native American who's been following them for some time.
The ending of the film seems to piss some people off. Without giving anything away, I'll just say that Meek's Cutoff has a VERY open ending. Some may consider it a cliffhanger, while others will be going; "you cant be serious. that cannot be the end" (something i actually heard someone say this past weekend at the film film forum when the end credits for Meek's Cutoff came up on the screen). On one hand i really commend Kelly Reichardt. It takes balls (well maybe not balls in HER case) to end a movie the way she did. On the other hand i feel that she took an easy way out. These days, ANY movie involving any type of relationship between native americans (or people of any race for that matter) and white people seems to piss someone off. Because of this, i think a lot of (mostly white) directors are timid when approaching these kinds of stories. For example, on the commentary track for 'In The Company Of Men', Neil Labutte kept reassuring that the scene where Aaron Eckhart corrects the young black employees english and makes him pull his pants down wasn't supposed to be seen as racist. But why not? Part of 'In The Company Of Men' of men is about "the workplace", which CAN be very racist. That doesn't mean Labutte himself is racist (the irony of course is that he later went on to make the awful 'Lakeview Terrace' movie with Samuel L. Jackson). Same thing with the ending of 'Night of The Living Dead'. Roger Corman insists that the ending wasn't supposed to have anything to do with race. But, once again, why not? It doesn't mean Roger Corman is racist. Once again, without giving too much away, its almost like Kelly Reichardt didn't wanna do the wrong thing, or she was worried about portraying the native american character as a savage leading the three families to the slaughter, so she left the ending up to the audience to decide. I also don't think she wanted to make an ending that showed the native american befriending and working with the white characters, which is that typical 'dances with wolves'/'new world' thing that some american directors tend to do. If Reichardt had made that kind of an ending, i know that i woulda been a little annoyed. Why would this native american character help these people who captured him, tied him up and beat him (well i guess only one person in the group was aggressive and violent towards him, but still...). I still would have personally liked to see her make a decision on her own, and come to more of a closing.
Anyway, Regardless of the ending (which is still a big thing), the rest of the movie is really good. Michelle Williams continues to show why she's one of my favorite actresses working right now. Will Patton, who always seems to come off as a young Robert Duvall, was perfectly cast, as was Paul Dano. Shirley Henderson continues to play a slightly clueless and somewhat ditsy character, which is a role I'm afraid shes starting to get typecast as. Bruce Greenwood, who plays the clueless tracker does a great job too. It would've been nice to see Reichardt's frequent collaborators like Will Oldham or even Larry Fessenden (who's work i only recently discovered) act in the film. Their persona's seem go perfectly with the old time setting of Meek's Cutoff. Like all of Kelly Reichardt's other films, she continues to focus on the poor and the not-so-well off, like Oldham's character in 'Old Joy' and Michelle Williams character in 'Wendy & Lucy'. She also continues to photograph the american landscape and nature beautifully just like she does in all her other films.

'Old Joy'
'Wendy & Lucy'
'Meek's Cutoff'

Watching Meek's Cutoff really did remind me of the Oregon trail computer game i use to play in school. Having to cross the river while carrying personal items above your head so they don't sink, having to repair broken wagon axle's, the riffle shooting, running low on water, everything. Overall this movie was a success, even with the extremely ambiguous ending. But like i explained earlier, if you aren't a fan of open endings, and you like things to be wrapped up a little more nicely, you'll probably throw something at the screen when you watch this. This is one of those movies that will grow on me over time, like all of Reichardt's movies.


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