Synopsis: Item Type: DVD Movie Item Rating: ""NR Street Date: 09/13/11 Wide Screen: yes Director Cut: no Special Edition: no Language""ENGLISH Foreign Film: no Subtitlesno Dubbed: no Full Frame: no Re-Release: no Packaging: ""Sleeve""
A few of the other reviews here hint at the truth of this film, in the context of it being too challenging for current tastes or in the rare company of Kubrick's 2001. What they really say, unintentionally, is that this film is not only difficult but exceedingly unpleasant and boring.
The director seems to be on a mission to capture the real experience of being on a poorly-supplied wagon train lost in unfamiliar territory and going weeks at a time without other human contact. In other words, mind-numbingly tedious and dull. Painful. Stifling. And surrounded by unpleasant, mainly stupid people who make you wish you were elsewhere (brilliantly acted by a cast uniquely capable of portraying unlikable characters experiencing the worst boredom of their unsympathetic lives.)
A reality purist, he even recreates the experience of watching other people have a conversation just a little too far away to be able to hear it. So the words spoken become irrelevant, adding nothing to the plot, because the perspective of whichever poor soul was missing out on this conversation didn't experience them. You can feel just how frustrating it would have been to have not been included in the conversation. And if frustration and confusion are feelings you hope for when you sit down to watch a movie, go for it. If you are more likely to respond to strong dialogue, intelligent plot turns, interesting characters, beauty, action, humor or emotion, you're probably not "serious" enough for this. We made it 55 minutes into the film and gave up. If you think that's too soon to give up on a film, maybe you'll like this. WE thought it was 55 minutes we'll never get back.
This movie is an arrogant, lifeless exercise for film students. Not just any film students; the ones you hope don't graduate and never make films. I earnestly hope never to waste another moment on anything made by these people. And frankly it was too unpleasant to waste any more time criticizing it.
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41 of 52 people found the following review helpful
Avant-Garde Western That's Actually Really GoodNov. 20 2011
- Published on Amazon.com
This is a really interesting film. I'm glad that I read about it before I watched it so that I would know what to expect. If you do that, you will probably have a more enjoyable experience because you will be expecting it to be weird. While I agree that the film was slow and that the dialogue was difficult to hear (I, too, had to turn on the subtitles to understand what was being said), there are some really cool things about this film that I really liked. This is probably one of the most realistic films I have ever seen in terms of reflecting what life was really like for settlers during the time period depicted. I loved the beauty and sparseness of the scenery and I thought that the long periods of silence actually helped allow the viewer to experience the visual aspect of the film without having to constantly listen to people talk. I liked the conversations in complete darkness, I thought they were a really neat touch that added to the realism. Without the use of electric lights, complete darkness is what the characters would have experienced in real life and I like the way that was brought to the screen. It cut through the artificiality typically present in film by not making special allowances for the film viewers, like having lighting when it would normally be pitch black.
In addition, the justification for the full frame aspect ratio is one of the most creative that I have ever heard. I read somewhere, either in an interview or perhaps in the notes written on the DVD packaging, that Kelly Reichardt purposely did not use a widescreen format because she was trying to replicate for the viewer the vision restrictions imposed on the female characters in the film by the bonnets they had to wear. The bonnets restrict the wearer's vision from side to side and create a more box-like picture, so the full frame ratio is supposed to, literally, give the viewer the impression that they are seeing the world while wearing one of those bonnets. I also loved the ending, I love how it just ended abruptly and left the story completely unresolved. We never find out if the characters ever find water or if their Indian guide really knows where he is going or whether he is just as lost as they are. I love the final shot of Michelle Williams' face looking through the tree branches as she watches the Indian guide walk off into the distance, seemingly propelled by some otherworldly quality of which the other characters are ignorant. The culture/language clash between the white settlers and the Indian guide is also very well depicted - the Indian guide does not speak English and does not appear to make very many attempts to purposefully communicate with the settlers. He seems more interested in his own internal world than with anything the settlers are doing. Is he crazy and/or lost or is his unusual behavior only able to be understood in the context of his Native American culture, a culture of which the settlers and likely many viewers are largely ignorant? Interesting question to ponder.
This film is definitely not your conventional western nor conventional example of any other genre, for that matter. "Avant-garde" is pretty much the word here. If you can forgive some of its flaws and embrace the full-on realism and accuracy that the director appears to be going for, you might just enjoy this film. It starts out as a mystery, it remains a mystery throughout, and it ends as a mystery. Definitely one to leave you thinking for a long time afterward.
14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
hard going, like the journey depicted in the film!Nov. 3 2011
- Published on Amazon.com
I bought this on spec without much research and rather regret the spend. Yes, it is a minimalist view of the hardships of the old west and is probably somewhat like it must have been in those days, not much drama, just plenty of slog and hardship. As a documentary it has some value perhaps but most of us buy a movie to be entertained and a little education thrown in is no bad thing too. This has almost no entertainment value at all. The story line is very flat and almost nothing happens from beginning to end. They start crossing a river and end arriving at a tree where there may be some hope of digging for water. In the meantime they ill-treat a native American and argue a bit. A wagon gets wrecked going down a slope. That's it! There is only modest character development. The aspect ratio of 1.37 is justified as highlighting the miserable life of the women but some wide views of the desolate land would have probably done that better. I doubt I will ever watch it again. Rent if there is nothing else but save your money. Dead dreary is my bottom line
35 of 46 people found the following review helpful
The West was never so sparse...July 8 2011
- Published on Amazon.com
Meek's Cutoff is an ambitious film trapped by a budget too low to properly realize it. The film is based on an actual event that took place in 1845, although it bears little semblance to those events.
The plot, here goes;
Seven, count 'em, seven settlers (not including the fetus inside the pregnant lady) in three, count 'em, three wagons cross the forbidding Oregon desert trusting their lives to their incredibly hairy guide Stephan Meek (played by Bruce Greenwood). It's clear from the get-go that Meek has no clue as to where they are at, much less if they are heading in the right direction. But since any decision they make could be just as bad, they decide to keep following Cousin It...I mean, Meek until they run across one, count 'em, one Native American who may know the right way...or not.
On the plus side, the framing of the landscape, the sparse dialogue, and solid acting elevates this effort above the average "indie" fare. Lead by the really fine Michelle Williams (who bears a strong resemblance to Renee Zellweger), the rest of the cast follow admirably, especially the aforementioned Greenwood, Shirley Henderson (best known as "Moaning Myrtle" from the Harry Potter series), and Rod Rondeaux who plays the Native American in such a way that we have absolutely no clue what his intentions, if any, he has.
Indeed, the very subject matter of how people react in this particular type of situation is enough to generate a palatable tension as they press on into the wilderness. There is also a strong attention to the "details" of frontier life. The gathering of wood, the keeping of fires, the attention to the water supply that helps set the proper mood. Speaking as a amateur historian, there was nothing terribly out-of-place about the clothes, tools, and firearms we see on the screen (the flintlocks were certainly appropriate). I do question the all-metal handles on the buckets and perhaps the general style of the woman's clothing as being more post-Civil War. But even if I'm right, such things tend to get overlooked anyway and it certainly didn't stand in the way of my enjoyment of the film.
On the down side, the limited budget undercuts a great deal of that very tension. Settlers in 1845 didn't cross the street with only three wagons, much less the 1,500 miles to Oregon. But even putting that historical error aside, the party is so small that even if they had stuck to the trail and caught every break, it's almost impossible to see how they could make it. All it would take is some bad weather or running across the wrong type of folks (in effect, bandits) or sickness which would wipe them out. So given the odds, our band of intrepid heroes is doomed from the start and the film becomes a waiting game to see what unfortunate event will eventually do them in.
Also, one sub-plot of a child's discovery of gold is dropped almost as soon as it's brought up and the other characters' reaction to this claim, particularly Meek himself, is impossible to believe. Even if you're stuck out in the middle of nowhere, far from any known source of water, it would take only a few seconds on horseback for any of the characters to verify the child's story. Yet no one does a thing save for one settler who sets up a "marker" so flimsy that a gentle gust of wind would topple it over. And even though there was a reported "discovery" of gold made during the actual event in 1845 (something that has not been verified to this day), why include such a "non-event" in the film itself?
As for the ending, which has generated some controversy, all I can say is that it fits pretty well with what such a low budget film is capable of. So while I wasn't all that miffed, many in the theater I watched the film in were not so generous. Perhaps having invested so much, they were naturally disappointed when it didn't pay off in any direct way. At least the theater staff could be glad that no one thought to bring a bag full of vegetables along.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2 1/2 stars for an interesting premise without substanceDec 26 2011
- Published on Amazon.com
Kelly Reichardt's slow moving film direction has been compared to numerous directors as is usually the case for our newer auteurs. For me this has the feel of a History Channel documentary with some help from Terrence Malick. The opening sequence goes on silently for 15 or 20 minutes or so which I have no problem with given the setting. But the film lacks a purpose other than to see the hardship of frontier life. The plot is simple and straight forward. Three families hire a guide named Meek (an unrecognizable Bruce Greenwood) to cross the Cascades and deliver them to 1845 Oregon.
Meek says he knows a shortcut. They get lost but encounter a lone Indian in the high desert. Why is he alone? We never find out. In any case they capture him with plans to execute him for being...an Indian. One couple believes he could lead them to water which they desperately need. Most of the film takes the form of a conflict of moral principals with the Tetherow's on one side and Meek on the other. The other two family's switch sides depending on the better argument. I kept waiting for something interesting to happen. Will the Indian prevail? Does he have compatriots in the hills? Will he lead them to water? Will Meek kill him? Will the Teherows kill Meek? Will Emily Tetherow (Michelle Williams) end up with the Indian? Alas, the PG stamp keeps it all in check. "Meek's Cutoff" in an interesting premise without much substance.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
WE'RE NOT LOST. WE'RE JUST TRYING TO FIND OUR WAYOct. 10 2011
The Movie Guy
- Published on Amazon.com
The movie starts out real slow. We watch the mundane tasks of the pioneers as they load water, wash dishes, grind meal...There is no introduction of characters. In fact they remain fairly plain. We hear and watch much of the important conversation from a distance catching bits and pieces. 3 devout families have hired Steven Meek, a slightly crusty man, to guide them to Oregon. He takes them into a high plains desert where they wander for weeks.
The men suspect Mr. Meek is deliberately attempting to get them lost as Oregon is an area in flux and may go to the English, depending on how many Americans settle there...or not. There is an Indian that pops up from time to time. Steven scares everyone with his Indian stories. Eventually they encounter the Indian and you think the story will pick up, but surprise! It doesn't.
The movie ends abruptly. From Meek's words, the film appears to be some sort of metaphor for life and fate as to what path to follow and who to trust, although for the life of me I can't really figure out what it is. The movie won all kinds of awards and I haven't figured that one out either. It was extremely boring. The dialouge was boring. The drama was boring. The people were boring. After a while, the scenery got boring. The squeak of the wagon wheel drove me crazy. Why anyone would waste their time watching this film is beyond me. It isn't accurate history. It is not art and it is not entertaining.