Fans of Michael Bay’s jack-off epics will run for the hills at first exposure to this tale of bonneted women on the Oregon trail, circa 1845. No one strips, twitches her ass or licks her lips, except out of thirst. This is Kelly Reichardt territory. The director of River of Grass, Old Joy and Wendy and Lucy is a gifted minimalist who believes that the tiniest detail can open up a universe. Just watch these wagon-train women stop to make something as simple as breakfast.
Michelle Williams, reteaming with Reichardt after Wendy and Lucy, is incandescent as Emily Tetherow, the wife of Soloman (Will Patton) but a woman of her own mind. Damn the dominant men. Emily has no confidence in Meek (a growly Bruce Greenwood), the bearded mountain man who’s been hired to guide the Tetherows and two other couples — the Gatelys (Zoe Kazan and Paul Dano) and the Whites (Shirley Henderson and Neal Huff) — over the Cascade Mountains. When the racist Meek captures a Cayuse Indian (Rod Rondeaux), the pioneers are forced to confront their worst instincts and their very real need for a savior.
I’m probably making Meek’s Cutoff seem more action-packed than the artfully surreal Western it is. Reichardt, co-writer Jon Raymond and cinematographer Christopher Blauvelt are really evoking a landscape of the mind. Reichardt has crafted a haunted dream of a movie to get lost in.