2011 was, in spite of the best efforts of Adam Sandler, Michael Bay and a viciously banal gang of Smurfs to ruin it for everyone, a very good year for film. As previously noted here, The Interrupters, Drive and The Upsetter were among my top new picks, while my belated discoveries included Happy Go Lucky and Valhalla Rising.
So far, however, I’ve neglected to mention the one film that stands out among them all, the film that when asked if I’ve “Seen any good movies lately?” immediately springs to mind. The movie is Kelly Reichardt‘s slow, painfully beautiful Meek’s Cutoff, starring Michelle Williams, Bruce Greenwood, Paul Dano and some incredibly majestic scenery. I’ll be the first to say it wasn’t a popular favourite, and for understandable reasons: primarily the fact that plotwise, not a whole lot happens over the course of the film. It’s about a group of pioneer-era settlers headed westward who lose their way and are forced to make some difficult decisions. And without spoiling it too much, there’s not a whole lot more to it than that. At least on the surface.
If you care to look past the austere script, however (and you can start with the lovingly-captured western landscape that forms an important character in the film) you’ll find a story that runs as deep as the Grand Canyon. Williams and Greenwood deliver wonderful performances as a strong-willed settler and an egotistical guide with questionable credentials, respectively, and whoever designed the soundtrack of creaking wagon parts and crunching boots–a beautiful, minimalist symphony unto itself–deserves praise as well.
Reichardt and Williams last worked together on the heart-wrenching Wendy and Lucy, which was a thus-far high point in the careers of both. Meek’s Cutoff, while a different beast in many ways, suggests that their creative partnership is just getting started.