Paid Advertisement
Historynet/feed historynet feedback facebook link World History Group RSS feed World History Group Subscriptions Historynet Home page

Movie Review: Meek's Cutoff

By HistoryNet Staff 
Originally published by Wild West magazine. Published Online: December 02, 2011 
Print Friendly
0 comments FONT +  FONT -

Meek's Cutoff, Oscilloscope Laboratories, 2010, PG (2011 DVD)

Thankfully this unusual Western is only 104 minutes long. Another 16 or so minutes on the Meek Cutoff of the Oregon Trail in 1845 might have killed me, and it has nothing to do with dullness (although the picture sometimes creeks along like a worn wagon wheel). It has more to do with the seeming "realism" of a Kelly Reichardt film that makes you feel like part of an actual westbound journey. The real-life 19th-century pioneers spent months on the trail, but I only needed about 15 minutes of viewing pleasure (using that word loosely) to confirm my suspicion that I was not cut out to be on the cutoff or even on the main trail. Well, maybe I could have hacked it had I had a strong woman like Emily Tetherow (portrayed by Michelle Williams) along for more than just the long ride. She is a cut above the other women (cowering and subservient) and men (simple followers) in dealing with the endless dry emptiness and the Indian "threat." That's not saying much; they all seem (understandably) a bit undone by this experience, although Reichardt doesn't explore their personalities in detail. The dominant character here is definitely the landscape, even if Bruce Greenwood as Stephen Meek chews up some scenery as a callous, blowhard "Buffalo Bill" look-alike who turns out to be a guide without a clue.

Subscribe Today

Subscribe to Wild West magazine

In the real West of 1845, mountain man Stephen Hall Meek (older brother of the more famous mountain man Joe Meek) guided a wagon train on a branch of the Oregon Trail that became known as Meek Cutoff. Some 1,000 emigrants and 200 wagons followed Meek across desolate land in Oregon where no wagons had previously ventured, and they met much hardship and death. In the movie only seven people in three wagons have followed Meek (that in itself sounds like a prescription for disaster), but their hardships (illness, accidents, lack of water, the uncertainty of what lies ahead) are much the same.

This is the opposite of an action picture; there is plenty of movement, but it is slow and vaguely westward. The storyline centers on a wandering Indian (well played by Rod Rondeaux) who might be a savage who doesn't savvy their language, but who just might know where he is going and where water can be found. That's more than can be said for Meek the misguided guide. Whether any or all of Reichardt's "lost" emigrants will die is left an open question, as the picture ends in unconventional fashion. Meek's Cutoff packs enough vision to trigger philosophical thoughts and make anyone glad the transcontinental railroad came along two decades later.



Leave a Reply

Human Verification: In order to verify that you are a human and not a spam bot, please enter the answer into the following box below based on the instructions contained in the graphic.

Related Articles

History Net Images Spacer
Paid Advertisement
Paid Advertisement
History Net Daily Activities
History net Spacer
History net Spacer
Historynet Spacer

Which of these wars resulted in the most surprising underdog upset?

View Results | See previous polls

Loading ... Loading ...
History net Spacer
RSS Feed Daily Email Update
History net Spacer
Paid Advertisement

Paid Advertisement
What is HistoryNet? is brought to you by World History Group, the world's largest publisher of history magazines. contains daily features, photo galleries and over 5,000 articles originally published in our various magazines.

If you are interested in a specific history subject, try searching our archives, you are bound to find something to pique your interest.

From Our Magazines
World History Group

World History Group Network:  HistoryNet | Armchair General | Achtung Panzer!
Today in History | Ask Mr. History | Picture of the Day | Daily History Quiz | Contact Us

Copyright © 2015 World History Group. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.
Advertise With Us | Subscription Help | Privacy Policy