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Oregon Trail Journeys to ND in “Meek’s Cutoff”

Alexandra Kilpatrick | Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Seldom does a period drama speak to a contemporary audience in a relatable way, but Meek’s Cutoff does just that.

Kelly Reichardt’s drama is brilliantly cast and directed, with cinematography that enables the audience to feel in the moment of the actual historical event. “Meek’s Cutoff” gained much critical acclaim and competed for the Golden Lion at the 67th Venice International Film Festival.

Reichardt is an acclaimed screenwriter and director within the American indie film industry, often creating dramas that fall in the minimalist movement. Her 1994 debut “River of Grass” was nominated for three Independent Spirit Awards and the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival.

Since then, she released 1999’s “Ode,” based on Herman Raucher’s novel “Ode to Billie Joe,” and two short films, 2001’s “Then a Year” and 2004’s “Travis” about the Iraq War.

Her 2006 film “Old Joy” features actor Daniel London and singer-songwriter Will Oldham as two friends who journey to the Cascades and Bagby Hot Springs near Portland for a camping trip. The drama, based on a short story by Jon Raymond, won awards from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, Rotterdam International Film Festival, Sarasota Film Festival and Independent Spirit Awards.

Reichardt’s 2008 film “Wendy and Lucy,” also based on a Jon Raymond story, earned Oscar buzz for lead actress Michelle Williams and was nominated for two Independent Spirit Awards including Best Film.

Reichardt’s newest drama, the 2010 western film “Meek’s Cutoff,” follows a group of pioneers on the Oregon Trail in 1845. Frontiersman Stephen Meek (Bruce Greenwood) leads a wagon train on an ill-fated journey through the desert to find a route called the Meek Cutoff. The film also stars Michelle Williams as Emily Tetherow and Paul Dano as Thomas Gately.

Tensions rise throughout the course of the Oregon High Desert journey as the settlers realize that their guide is unintentionally leading them astray. Water and food supplies quickly become scarce as what was meant to be only a two-week trip stretches to five.

Gender relations are also addressed as the wives allow their husbands to make all significant decisions. Nonetheless, a question of power becomes a matter of survival as the pioneers come to terms with their lack of essential resources.

Rotten Tomatoes describes the film as “moving at a contemplative speed unseen in most Westerns … ‘Meek’s Cutoff’ is an effective, intense journey of terror and survival in the untamed frontier.”

The DeBartolo Performing Arts Center will show “Meek’s Cutoff” this weekend.