Saturday, August 23, 2014

interesting oater alert

Westerns, or at least new Westerns, have been out of favor for some time.  Occasionally they still happen to get made, though.  An unusual and fascinating recent example of the form is Kelly Reichardt's Meek's Cutoff

The film is set on the Oregon trail migration and follows a wagon train making its way through the mountains.  The first five minutes or so elapse with no dialogue and no music.  When people do start speaking it's presented naturalistically and it might take some time to tune in.  I can honestly tell you that there are some exchanges where I don't know what people said.  Partly because I was eating, but also partly because Reichardt and scriptwriter Jonathan Raymond care more about you understanding the characters than every word they say.

The wagon train is guided by Stephen Meek, played in a bird's nest beard and an impressively resonant growl by Bruce Greenwood.  Meek comes off as something of a braggart, a man given to embellishing his past deeds beyond recognition, but he's never exposed as a coward.  He is revealed, or at least suspected, as a poor guide.  His route takes the settlers off-track and into Cayuse territory.  Here they take a lone Cayuse aboard, one who speaks no English.

Meek distrusts the Cayuse, and immediately wants to kill him.  The others, including heroine Emily Tetherow (Michelle Williams) entrust the Cayuse with helping them find water.  It's a tentative trust, however.

Who's right?  It's a mild spoiler to tell you that we never find out.  Meek, in his loating of the Cayuse as a tribe, repeatedly bring up their purported slave trading.  Given that the movie is set around 1845, that doesn't give Meek and America much of a leg to stand on.  The Cayuse himself, played by veteran stuntman Rod Rondeau, does seem shifty at times.  Other times he looks to be as lost in his own way as anyone.

The film places us on one side of a cultural divide, the side that you'd expect, really.  But it acknowledges that divide, up close.


susan said...

It's not too often you see a western directed by a woman either, but by your description this one sounds to be pretty good. In fact, your review is so good we now have this one on our 'to watch' list. Low key, bleak, and realistic will be nice break :)

We looked at the trailer just now and noticed Meek's Cutoff is an Oscilloscope movie. We've seen a few they've distributed, but the one I'll mention that you might like is a Finnish Christmas movie called Rare Exports.

Ben said...

Oscilloscope Labs was founded by MCA from the Beastie Boys. They've got a pretty cool logo, among other things.

I've heard of Rare Exports, but not in awhile. That's something I'll want to see one of these days.