This is the first film I’ve seen by director Kelly Reichardt and shall be pursuing her other two features. It’s based on a true story of a wagon train, reduced to three in the film, that get lost as a result of their guide’s – Meek – ‘cutoff’. The slow pace of the trio’s painful progress is mirrored in the ‘slow cinema’ of Reichardt’s direction; including one immense dissolve that take so long that the train is juxtaposed with itself.
Scriptwriter Jonathan Raymond focuses upon the wives who are absolutely marginalised; their influence upon the world blinkered metaphorically by their bonnets (mirrored in Reichardt’s use of Academy ratio). Another variant on the western is the ‘indian’. Here presented as unknowable, not as being a savage as in classical Hollywood, but we are given no access to his perspective; he simply responds to whatever happens to him.
One irritant, for me, was the inconsistency of the train’s direction. Where they were going was of importance: they argue whether to go south or north; they choose the latter but are shot going south against a setting sun.
However, if you have the patience for slow cinema, and the cinematography and performances should be enough to keep you happy, catch this (revisionist?) western.