Monday, March 26, 2012

Quick Bite: Meek's Cutoff

A belated DVD review, just for you!

The stark plains and the dust that chokes the air in Meek's Cutoff makes The Searchers (which I just re-watched) seem like a really political Disney film, but then again the soundtrack of the 1956 classic seems to be from another much funnier film. Dark themes of alienation, racism and masculinity are nearly hidden behind a seemingly random score and a few bits of strained comedy. I seemed to only recall what Marty told us about The Searchers, which makes Meek’s Cutoff quite interesting.

This is a quiet movie of sweeping landscapes that look just as harsh and deadly as they are in reality. We see this small band of wagons, three families, led by their shaggy yarn-spinning guide, Mr. Meek, as they struggle to reconnoiter just where the heck they are, and it's pretty much all from the women’s perspective (unusual for a Western). The men debate at a distance how to proceed through the vacant stretches of wilderness when water is running low, while the women eaves drop silently to learn their fate. Everyone is covered in a layer of grime; there isn’t a clean finger nail among the lot. The women cook, they mend, and eventually they speak up and one even makes a stand with a rifle– but only after the caravan takes an Indian hostage with the hopes that he will lead them to water to save them along with their livestock. This is not a tidy or satisfying Western; much in the way that The Searchers leaves John Wayne’s character unchanged from we first meet him years earlier – bitter, tired, and alone. Meek’s is an existential exercise with no real beginning or end; the latter might be a bit frustrating for some. The dialogue could be tighter and while I love Bruce Greenwood, I didn’t love him in this role. Michelle Williams and Paul Dano are standouts and the cinematography is superb (the dissolves are stunning). Move it to the top of your queue.

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