Great news for insomniacs. Meek’s Cutoff is so dull, most folks watching it — well, except for some hoity-toity East Coast critics who can’t seem to praise it enough — will nod off in the first third.
One of those critics said the film has “a bracing feminist spin.” Another called it “extraordinarily textured.”
It’s the story of three families making a covered-wagon trip across Oregon in 1845, led by a big-bearded, garrulous, full-of-himself guide named Stephen Meek (an unrecognizable Bruce Greenwood). This fellow has promised to get them to some Eden-like destination but seems only to have gotten them lost.
We know this initially because one of the travelers has carved the word “lost” on a fallen tree.
But hey, they need to keep the faith. They paid Meek some good money. He must know what he’s doing.
So on they travel — the men on horses or driving the wagons, the women walking behind. (Bracing feminist spin?)
Meek’s presents itself as the tale of a long, arduous journey. But beyond being lost and starting to run out of water, the families don’t have much story to tell. In fact, hardly anything happens.
There are long, static shots of people and scenery, usually extended by tracking shots of those same people riding and walking on and on under the blazing sun across the parched landscape. (Extraordinarily textured?) And there’s very little dialogue. At one point, a young boy in the group reads from the Bible, but most of the script’s words come from the men who are grumbling about their predicament while the women suffer silently. In a couple of instances, the men are talking together, but the camera is so far away, just a few words can be picked up clearly.
The only character who goes out of his way to speak is Meek. But he mostly mumbles, wanting only to tell stories of his glory days. Whenever anyone asks him where the heck they are and what they should do about their dwindling water supply, he simply changes the subject.
This is easily the slowest-moving movie of the year, rivaled in recent times only by Wendy and Lucy, the equally annoying, slow, and almost wordless film by director Kelly Reichardt and writer Jonathan Raymond and also starring Michelle Williams, an actress of very little range.
Not only does Meek lack any clue about what he’s doing or where he’s going, the poor fools who hired him are regularly plagued by bad luck. If only the filmmakers had taken some time to explore the relationships among the couples and families on the journey, Meek’s Cutoff might have been slightly interesting. As it is, it isn’t.