directed by Kelly Reichardt
Meek’s Cuttoff is everything I could have hoped for, a film that sets a very high standard for what’s to follow this year. In fact, this is one of the films I was most excited to see this year (Terence Malick’s Tree Life is number 1 with a bullet). While I cannot speak for the disgruntled group of geriatrics who mumbled and grumbled throughout the film’s grueling, enervating (magnificently, magically enervating) duration, I was mesmerized by Kelly Reichardt’s masterful lens and Jonathan Raymond’s fantastic script. What makes Meek’s Cuttoff so phenomenal is how ardently and organically it avoids all the usual trappings and conventions that befall lesser films, and what made me realize how trained I have become to expect such trappings was how tense and nervous I felt throughout much of the movie. I found myself waiting for an “inciting incident,” a plot twist or even one of those obligatory “shocker” moments that make you jump, but Meek’s Cuttoff requires none of those things, instead relying on a sort of internal mechanism that propels itself. Cinematographer Chris Blauvelt has operated cameras for some of the best (David Fincher on Zodiac, Spike Jonze on Where the Wild Things Are, Wong Kar Wai on one of the BMW films, The Follow), but his photographic wizardry on Meek’s most evokes Gus Van Sant’s jaw dropper, Gerry, which is actually the film to which I have been likening Reichardt’s gem. Like Gerry, Meek’s Cuttoff is an experience, a labyrinth of quiet desperation, isolation, and human spirits dominated by the vastness of an unknown land. I could go on and on about the stellar relationships that exist between the settlers and their arrogant guide Stephen Meek (played wonderfully by Bruce Greenwood), a man who may or may not be lying about his expertise, or the Indian guide with whom the group places their wary trust, but the last thing I want to do is intellectualize such a powerfully raw film that needs no abstractions to strengthen or justify its existence. Meek's Cuttoff is a bruiser, and a heavy weight contender for all those little gold awards. Michelle Williams is perfect as Emily, wife to Solomon (Will Patton is one of my favorite actors) and the gradual leader of the clan. Take notes, Academy, and don’t screw anything up this year.