By: Henry J. Fromage (Two Beers) –
It has to be pretty much impossible to bring a new perspective on the Western genre, but I can’t think of another film that tries to couple telling a story from a female settler’s perspective and a devotion to realism.
Meek’s Cutoff focuses on a small band of settlers who separate form the main wagon train under the guide of grizzled trapper Stephen Meek (Bruce Greenwood) and soon find themselves lost and searching for water. When they capture a Pawnee who had been observing them, the dynamics of power in the caravan begin to shift.
Although the Indian remains unimpressed
The first thing you’ll notice when you turn on the film is that it is shot in the 4:3 aspect ratio (black bars on both sides). I had to see what the reasoning was before I gave this a pass, and it turns out to be as thought out and stylized as the rest of the film.
Director Kelly Reichardt wanted to convey the limited viewpoint of the women whose perspective she was using, both socially and practically due to the peripheral vision eliminating bonnets they wore. She also wanted to ramp up the tension by suggesting “something could be there that you don’t know about.”
Leprechauns. I’m pretty sure she meant leprechauns.
The film is full of choices like these. For example, when the men walk away to discuss something, their volume diminishes, and the audience has to eavesdrop just like the wives who are straining to hear what is going on. The film also develops at a much slower pace than typical Hollywood fare and often focuses on the women performing mundane, everyday tasks. Not only does this bring us into the women’s lives, it builds the tension and unease the characters are beginning to develop and then accentuates the action when it does occur.
Besides this amazing directing job and solid performances from Greenwood, Paul Dano, Shirley Henderson, Will Patton, and Rod Rondeaux, you have to raise a glass to Michelle Williams and her black powder rifle reloading skills.
Look at that stance!
As well-crafted and realistic of a film as this is, there are still a few things that take you out of it. At one point, a wife played by Zoe Kazan starts to lose it, but her character never got enough support to make her later hysterics believable. Also, I’m just not buyin’ Meek’s beard.
Looks like something you’d find in an owl pellet
This film is unlike any Western I’ve ever seen before, and if you’ve got it in you to be patient and contemplative you should love it.
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a Drink: whenever the camera lingers on an everyday object
Take a Drink: for every sketch thing Meek says or does
Drink a Shot: whenever the Indian gets annoyed by the stupid white people