Thursday, May 19, 2011

Meek’s Crossing (***)

This is a western like no other, but something like director Kelly Reichardt’s earlier work, which includes Old Joy and Wendy and Lucy. That is, it is a very quiet movie, where you actually need to watch, and not just listen, to understand what’s happening. I noticed this, for example, when the traveler played by Michelle Williams is listening to her husband confer with another of the men traveling with them. Reichardt doesn’t let us hear what they’re saying, just lets us watch her watching them. There are three couples traveling by covered wagon in the Oregon Territory of 1845. We can only guess what has led them to make the dangerous trip, or how they came to rely on the uncertain advice of an unsavory character played by an unrecognizably bearded Bruce Greenwood.

Williams starred in Wendy and Lucy, but this movie really has no star (although possibly recognizable names Will Patton, Shirley Henderson, Paul Dano, and Zoe Kazan play other members of the group).  Though the landscape was prominent in Reichardt’s other movies, here it’s something like a main character. I am no expert about westerns, but I’ve not seen one that so captures the frighteningly empty mystery that the traveler would have experienced, with no communication, no roads, no map, and no stranger to guide them. The way that some of the actors speak seems modern to me, but otherwise I was transported to this setting where an encounter with an Indian, one who spoke no English, could represent real danger, and where you could die in the desert for not knowing where to refill empty water tanks. It does take awhile for the conflicts to develop, and you never find out too much about what happened before, or what next, after the film ends.

IMDB link

viewed 5/11/11 at Ritz 5 and reviewed 8/9/11

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