I walked out of the press preview of “Meek’s Cutoff” kind of grumpy. The film, which opens today, is about a group of pioneers who get lost on their way to Oregon. So, really, it’s like “Little House on the Prarie” with fewer charming stories about log cabins. I HATED it at first. But, days later, I decided that I did not, in fact, want those two hours of my life back.
What initially changed my mind was Michelle Williams’ (above) performance as Emily Tetherow, the centerpiece of the film. Watching her brings home the fact that while the men of Ye Olden Times certainly worked hard, they did it fueled by a breakfast made by someone who was up before dawn to build a fire, grind coffee, boil water, slice bacon and cook grits. And then did it all again for lunch. And dinner.
I was never bored, because the performances are mesmerizingly strong. Everyone — from young couple Thomas and Millie (Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan) to the possibly moronic guide Stephen Meek (Bruce Greenwood) — is a deeply developed character.
The pioneers deal with the mundanities of daily life. And then they realize that, hey, they might die. It might be slow and agonizing, or quick and violent. But death is a strong possibility. And while the film is slow-paced, that’s the point. These are people moving, literally step by step, toward whatever waits over the next ridge. And I was glad I went along for the ride.