One of the reasons why I started blogging was so that I could have an emotional outlet. I wanted a way to order my thoughts and emotions about movies, expressing them in a constructive and fulfilling way. I can only hope that you, dear reader, enjoy these blog entries as much as I enjoy writing them.
But this is a rare occasion when I actually need to vent. And I’m not talking about an emotional or psychological need, this is a medical need. I’m actually convinced that if I don’t write up an entry on Meek’s Cutoff, my head will explode from all the rage pent up inside.
I knew pretty much immediately that I was in trouble with this one. My first hint was that the opening fifteen minutes of this film were filled with nothing but people doing things. I did not know these people, I didn’t know how they came to be in the middle of nowhere and I didn’t know what they were trying to accomplish. All I knew was that I was watching these people cross streams, wash dishes, hang up laundry and other such chores. And there was nothing to distract from this. No score, no conflict, not even a single opening credit! The dialogue doesn’t start until nine minutes in, and it’s some kid reading from a Bible!
After keeping a tenuous grip on my sanity through the first act, I learned that these people are on the Oregon Trail, off on a quest to the Willamette Valley. They are led by a navigator (the eponymous Meek), who seems untrustworthy, foolish and drunk. The characters discuss doing something about him, but they never do. They find a nugget of gold along the way and nothing comes of it. They debate about which way to go, always a hundred feet away from the camera so we can barely hear a thing about it.
Yet the crowning moment of idiocy comes when they run low on water and turn to an Indian guide for help. To cut the long, bloated and tedious story down to the bite-sized chunk it needed to be, the guide does some chanting and motions to a hill. Our characters somehow conclude that water must be over the hill and someone proposes sending a scout to investigate. But no, they instead choose to take all three covered wagons down an impossibly steep incline because — and I quote — “We’re all in this together.” So we watch these characters rope down the wagons, each one taking up at least three minutes of screentime. And it isn’t tense at all. In fact, it’s boring. You know why? Because it’s STUPID!
Seriously, if you dumbasses want to waste so much time and put all of your supplies at risk for no decent reason, I have no sympathy for you. I don’t care. Go on and break your backs over so much effort you don’t have to make. What’s that? One of the wagons got destroyed? And you lost all your water in the process? And you’re hundreds of miles away from civilization over a century before cell phones and helicopters were invented? Well, you should have thought of that before you decided that sending out a single man on a horse was a bad idea. Cry me a river.
By now, you’ve probably guessed that I hate these characters. At best, they’re totally indistinguishable non-entities and at worst, they’re so annoying and moronic that their deaths would be a mercy. This is made more tragic to me because Michelle Williams, Paul Dano and Bruce Greenwood are all in the cast. Three amazing actors, all clearly putting in their best and all painfully hamstrung by the incompetent script. Only Williams’ character gets any effort to be made sympathetic, yet she does absolutely nothing of value until her moment of glory in the second act, defending the Indian guide. Unfortunately, when the Indian in question has done absolutely nothing to merit any degree of trust and given the rather violent nature of Caucasian/Native American relations at the time, this gesture doesn’t come of as egalitarian so much as it looks STUPID.
Put simply, this film is about characters who are braving the wilds in search of a better life. When these characters are put in life-threatening situations a single wrong turn away from death, led by a guide who might possibly kill them in their sleep, “Is it too late to get my money back?” should be the absolute LAST thing going through my head!
However, I will grant the movie one thing: Its cinematography. The camera work in this film is absolutely gorgeous, with sweeping panoramas of untamed desert. Every frame of this film is perfectly staged and beautifully lit. Every shot is amazing to look at. So amazing, in fact, that the director can’t seem to help but hold on it… and hold on it… and hold on it… and hold on it…
The editing in this film is a joke. Hundreds of shots will continue long after anything useful has happened and several shots are completely worthless to anyone without an anthropology degree. If you cut out all the padding in this film — every shot that was pointless or held for too long — I’d estimate you’d have roughly 10 minutes of completely disjointed story left in this… *checks Wikipedia* Good God, was the film really only 104 minutes long? It felt like a freakin’ eternity!
Still, all of this wasn’t enough to set me off. Oh, all the boredom and pain was enough to guarantee a negative review, but it wasn’t what sent every fluid in my body boiling with rage. That was the ending, which was a two-minute shot of our Indian guide walking into the sunset. Never mind that these characters are still dying of thirst, this nameless Indian is walking into the sunset. Who cares if our characters never make it to Oregon safely or if the man dying in one of the wagons ever gets urgent medical care? The Indian guide is walking away. I endured all of the go-nowhere narrative with these characters I couldn’t care less about, and my pay-off was an overlong shot of some Indian walking away, leaving the entire movie unresolved.
FUCK YOU, MOVIE!!! Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you…
Oh, shoot. My “\/” key seems to have broken.
To conclude, Meek’s Cutoff is a failure of such magnitude that I can only assume the filmmakers were trying to suck on purpose. It’s the only explanation for why the cast had so many great actors and so many crappy characters. Why the imagery was so beautiful in its camerawork and so ugly in its editing. Most tellingly, it’s the only explanation for why the filmmakers chose a potentially amazing story and made it as boring as they possibly could at all possible opportunities!
The end result is just a pretentious, incompetent and literally stupefying piece of crappy Oscar-bait. Stay away from this film, dear readers, and pray that 2011 won’t be such an awful year in film that the Academy has to dignify it with nominations. And while you’re at it, pray that Oregonians will finally get a film that we can legitimately be proud of.