Meek’s Cutoff is an incredibly boring, slow-paced, poorly written, stagnant, dirty, parched, laughable, ridiculous, aimless, wandering, plodding, bed-ridden, disjointed, itchy, irritating, bizarre, foolish, nonsensical, underdeveloped, meandering, time-wasting, irrelevant dust ball of a motion picture. I can’t imagine anything so boring and neither can you. It presents itself as a Western and for the first 103 minutes of its 104-minute running time, that’s what I thought it was. I thought to myself, “What an incredibly boring, uneventful Western!” It wasn’t until the final shot that I realized: this is a comedy! Then it came into context! The whole film made so much more sense then. Perhaps it was an underacted satire of artsy Indie movies. Alas, I don’t honestly think the filmmakers had a comedy in mind. No, what they had in mind was a somber mood piece set on the Oregon Trail. Well, they certainly got the “somber” part right. It’s also depressing, grueling, stupid and boring.
The script is supposedly based on the true story of the Tetherow wagon train that disappeared while traveling the dusty plains of the Oregon Trail under the leadership of Stephen Meek (Bruce Greenwood). Michelle Williams plays Mrs. Tetherow, a drab yet headstrong frump of a trail wife, who begins to doubt Meek’s leadership as their search for water on the hot and dusty trail becomes more and more desperate. The film begins with a series of very long, nearly silent shots of people chopping wood, fixing wagons, and filling barrels with water. And so: let the inanity begin! The first five minutes are devoted to a seemingly endless montage of similar shots. Some wagons move, some oxen moo, some women squeak. Bruce Greenwood tells a young boy about how “there’s a lot of bears in hell, but there aint no bears here.” It’s shot in a very archaic aspect ratio of 1.33: 1, the ratio used in most movies from the 1930s and 40s. This format at this point in time is quite disconcerting and I felt like a horse with blinders on, walking around with no peripheral vision for an hour and forty-five minutes. Lord, what a weird film! At some point they find an Indian whom Meek proceeds to torment, kicking him and calling him nasty names. Mrs. Tetherow comes to his defense a few times, even threatening Meek with a gun if he abuses the Indian any more. The Indian is supposed to lead them to water, but from what I reckon (a word that this film has some sort of extra-marital affair with) they never find it.
O! how this picture wanders and wanders back and forth, fore and aft, round about and upside down. It wanders and wanders until all sense of direction and pacing are utterly lost amid the boredom and dust of the desert. Be prepared to take a bath after this sucker, because it’s quite possibly the most parched and dusty calico-fest I’ve ever attended. This is what is called a “find it, make it, break it, fix it, use it, eat it” movie. In other words: countless moments of precious time are wasted watching people figure out how to make things out of wood and repair their wagons. Then when the wagon is fixed, they go on wandering and wandering. At one point they discuss whether or not they should “keep” the Indian and one of the pioneers remarks, “We need water, I know that much.” Well, I should say so! That’s the premise for the whole silly movie. Then they come to a tree growing in a field and the kid says, “Trees can’t live without water, can they, Mama?” And I said, “Well, duh!” It’s idiotic. I can’t imagine a movie that’s more boring. It just wanders and wanders without any point or purpose. It’s more aimless than a headless chicken in a corn maze.
I went into this picture expecting a Western and I found myself wondering, “Where’s the violence? Where are the cussing and mean Indians and ugly horse thieves?” It’s just bad. Really and truly bad and boring. All of this leads up to a hilarious ending. At that point I realized it was a comedy and I burst out laughing. O! was it hilarious. People around me started chuckling too as the credits rolled (or rather flashed). You could look at a single picture for an hour and get more logic out of it than what lives here. If Meek’s Cutoff were an equation it would have a zero in the denominator. It would be a vertical line, an undefined expression. The movie has lots and lots of rise, but no run. It’s inexplicable, it’s a twelfth dimension, it’s sola scriptura on steroids, it’s like jumbo shrimp, it’s like Good Grief, it’s like a near miss, it’s like swimming through land and gargling peanut butter, it’s like the Penrose Steps, it’s like intelligent design, it’s like being un-dead, it’s like walking on sunshine, it’s like falling up where the sidewalk ends. Just like the above oxymorons and paradoxes, Meek’s Cutoff doesn’t make sense. I’ll give a house to anybody who can explain it to me.
But, here you go, Cole, rambling on and on much like the movie. Well, after sitting through such drivel I have a right to don’t I? Sometimes movies really let you down. Meek’s Cutoff is such a film. It’s not worth your time and it wasn’t worth my time. Here’s looking at ceiling panels. Amen.
Some unknown production company presents
Cast: Michelle Williams, Bruce Greenwood, Zoe Kazan, Will Patton, Paul Dano, Shirley Henderson, Neal Huff, Tommy Nelson, Rod Rodreaux.
Directed by Kelly Reichardt
Rated PG for some mild violent content, brief language and smoking.