There were plenty of films that made an impact on me during last year's BendFilm festival, but none stuck with me like Meek's Cutoff. The film, about a group of families heading dangerously off course thanks to a big-talking guide in the early days of the Oregon Trail, has finally made it to wide release after a successful festival tour.
In fact, when Meek's Cutoff screened at BendFilm, it was one of the first showings of the film. Still, by the film's end, it was tough to say that this film, directed by Portland's Kelly Reichardt (who also brought us the touching Wendy and Lucy), wasn't going to make some waves. Sure, it's incredibly quaint and quiet with little stylistic flare, but that's the beauty of it. Reichardt, with a great script from Jonathan Raymond, allows the desolate eastern Oregon backdrop to serve as a blank canvas on which Michelle Williams (in one of her best roles since Brokeback Mountain), Paul Dano and the rest of the cast paint a picture of heartbreak, misery and mystery with their stunningly believable characters. Another nod goes to a grizzled Bruce Greenwood who played the film's eponymous and impossibly inept guide, eliciting plenty of frustration from both the other characters and ultimately, the audience.
There might be some draw to this film for Bendites, considering our town is one of the last true outposts of metropolitan life before the desolate stretch of land where the film takes place. But don't expect to notice any landmarks - there's really not much to see in the mile after mile of desert the pioneers slog through. While there's a sense of Oregon pride in this film in both its production and the way it tells the history of our area's first settlers, what will really stand out is the sheer quality of this drama.