Meek's Cutoff (2010)

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Released 5-Oct-2011

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Featurette-Making Of-Making Meek
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 2010
Running Time 98:00
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Kelly Reichardt
Studio
Distributor

Madman Entertainment
Starring Michelle Williams
Bruce Greenwood
Will Patton
Zoe Kazan
Paul Dano
Shirley Henderson
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI $34.95 Music Jeff Grace


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

†††† American director Kelly Reichardt has as her idiom the representation of the marginalised, lonely and dispossessed in the community. Her last film, Wendy and Lucy, was nothing more than the simple tale of a woman, living out a car, looking for a lost dog. And yet it was a dramatic, moving and memorable experience. Meeks Cutoff takes the director right out of her urban setting and into the Wild West. Based on a true story, and scripted by her constant muse Jon Raymond ( who recently adapted the series Mildred Pierce), it tells of the journey of a trio of families in a wagon train in 1845 through an inhospitable environment led by former fur trapper Stephen Meek.

†††† Whilst the era of her latest film may be wildly different from the contemporary setting of her previous films River of Grass, Old Joy and Wendy and Lucy her filmmaking sensibilities remain. This is a spare and spartan cinematic experience where the regular tropes of the genre are quietly yet methodically overturned. This is not a classical Western nor is it even recognisable as a narrative-based drama. It is perhaps best seen as a story of an environment in which people are unfamiliar and transitory if not downright unwelcome.

†††† The wagon train has been pushing westward through the deserts and plains of north-western United States. They have put their faith and indeed lives in the hands of Stephen Meek (played by an unrecognisable Bruce Greenwood) a blowhard wild West adventurer, full of stories about life at the edge of the frontier. Trouble is, the wagon train was supposed to have found its destination after two weeks. It has now been five weeks and the families are no closer to their destination. The men gather round in circles debating their choices. The women are left out of the important discussions. Food is becoming scarce and, alarmingly, water is starting to run out.

†††† Amongst the poor families are a few of director Kelly Reichardt's favourite actors- Will Patton as the ostensible leader and his screen wife Michelle Williams, who played the lead in Wendy and Lucy. Paul Dano, who drama fans will remember from There Will Be Blood, is another traveller. Finally, a strange choice perhaps is British actress Shirley Henderson (Harry Potter's Moaning Myrtle).

†††† When we find them they are the end of their tether. The journey has carried on too long after the promised arrival date and faith in Stephen Meek has dropped to near zero. The situation becomes more complicated when the men capture a Native American who seems to be watching their wagon train. The introduction of the savage creates a rift between members of the party, particularly Meek who sees the Indian as nothing more than a potential killer. He advocates hanging him from the nearest wagon. The wagon train members, particularly Williams' character, are not so sure. Maybe the savage knows the way to salvation?

†††† The events described above are really not major plot movements. In fact there is little plot to speak of as the filmmaker is more interested in the unspoken as well as the power of the journey. Frequently actors will move in and out of shot and the director will leave her camera trained on the empty space. The film sparked some deep debate in critical circles about the nature of cinema as art as opposed to entertainment. Some accused the critics of fawning over emperorís new clothes, finding beauty in boredom. It is true that this film reduces the viewing tempo to walking pace so that each minor shift in power relationships or minor incident assumes great proportions. Far from being a film where "nothing happens" it is instead an experience where the audience has to look closely, as if at an ant farm, to see the subtle dramatic currents.

†††† The performances are subdued and studied and the cinematography brings beauty into the harshness. This is not a film for everyone. Years of whip crack editing in order to create excitement has meant that near silent films with long shots are accused of being uninvolving. Meek's Cutoff is a great example of a film that takes its time to bring the viewer into the world and quietly builds drama from the simplest of moments. In 1845 a wagon train is lost in the wilds of Oregon - running out of food and water. The guide Stephen Meek is a confident braggart but, little by little, the travellers are losing their faith in his ability to lead them through the wilderness. Meek's Cutoff, based on a true story, is a stark, deliberately paced experience, featuring star Michelle Williams, that will be appreciated by indie drama fans who are prepared to adapt to its sense of stillness. A decent transfer combined with a small featurette deliver a quality package. Recommended.

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Transfer Quality

Video

†††† Meek's Cutoff was shot on 35mm film. Unusually, it was framed for release at a 1.33:1 aspect ratio. It is presented on DVD at this ratio. Naturally it is not 16x9 enhanced.

†††† Why the choice of a pre-1950s aspect ratio? It does hark back to the earlier era. It also tightly confines the actors in the hellish journey. In one interview fellow director Todd Haynes suggested that it mirrored the restricted view from the womenís bonnets! Whatever the reason it does intensify the personal drama and dispel the myth of the frontiersmen dominating the landscape.

†††† The film is largely stripped of colour and this look is rendered well by the transfer. The flesh tones are accurate. The blacks are suitably deep. There are no technical problems with the transfer.

†††† There is a light grain structure.

††††There are no subtitles.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

†††† The film carries a single soundtrack, being an English Dolby Digital 5.1 track running at 448 Kb/s.

†††† The soundtrack for the film matches the artful austerity of the visuals. Dialogue is often whispered or heard from a distance making it difficult to hear at times what is going on. That is no accident and suits the aesthetic of the piece. Whether that drives you crazy is another issue! As said, there are no subtitles which means the unheard dialogue will remain so. The dialogue of the Native American is deliberately unsubtitled.

†††† The predominant sound is the regular squeaking of the wagon wheels. That assumes such a role in the soundscape that it becomes something like the narration for the film - a reflection of the anguish of the travellers. The wind also moves and whips at the characters. The surround track is a subtly ambient affair.

†††† Composer Jeff Grace provides some snatches of music.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

The Making of Meek

†††† There is a single extra. Although it is described as a Making of feature it is really more like an on-set diary. It is every bit as stark as the feature with no narration and no clear narrative. One joy is to see the wagons and actors being filmed close to modern machinery.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

†††††This DVD is identical to the Region 1 however the Blu-ray of the film in Region A (US) apparently has English subtitles. Maybe useful, maybe not.

Summary

†††† I recently had the pleasure of reviewing Terrance Malick's The Tree of Life. Those who appreciate the virtues of that film will also appreciate the quietude of Meek's Cutoff. A tough and sometimes tense tale of people adrift in an unforgiving landscape it allows the viewer time to adapt to the slow rhythms of the wagons and become absorbed into the environment.

††††The transfer is fine and the extra is worth a watch.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Trevor Darge (read my bio)
Thursday, December 15, 2011
Review Equipment
DVDCambridge 650BD (All Regions), using HDMI output
DisplaySony VPL-VW80 Projector on 110" Screen. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationPioneer SC-LX 81 7.1
SpeakersAaron ATS-5 7.1

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add)
Meek's cutoff/Tree of Life - wolfgirv REPLY POSTED
Avoid - REPLY POSTED
Sound - REPLY POSTED
US Blu-ray has English subtitles - penguin (there is no bio)
Meek's Cutoff - R2 with subs - wolfgirv