WRITER Philip Watts
Meek’s Cutoff is the third in a trilogy of Oregon-based films directed by Kelly Reichardt and written by Jonathan Raymond. Where Old Joy and Wendy and Lucy examined the hiking trails and small towns of the contemporary Pacific Northwest, Meek’s Cutoff is instead loosely based on a historical incident that took place on the 2000 mile Oregon Trail in 1845. This bleak Western is a sparsely scored, and softly shot story of a small band of pioneer settlers travelling across the Oregon High Desert. When what was supposed to be a two week journey turns into five, the families begin to suspect that the guide they are paying may not actually know where he’s going at all. Dynamics slowly begin to shift, and roles begin to become blurred, when the group captures a lone Indian in the hope he might lead them to water. The film is an exploration on gender and social roles, savagery and wilderness, and the power struggles that arise during a historically difficult time. The colouring of the film is itself a character in the story, as the landscapes of the trail offer hazes of brown, grey and blue. The harsh landscape, and the beautiful way it is shot is as integral to the story as the plot itself, and the opening ten minute scene sets this tone perfectly as the wagon and the families cross a river, set back in the frame, with the sounds of the desert plains the only accompaniment to the stirring visuals.