Kelly Reichardt’s “Meek’s Cutoff,” set in 1845, is about three families headed West in covered wagons. You feel every inch of the trail. Reichardt has a documentarian’s eye – the spacious bleakness of the Pacific Northwest is impressively rendered. She also has an avant-garde fondness for moody nothingness, for scenes that dwindle away in real time.
For a movie about hard-driving pioneers, there is nevertheless much existential ennui in the air. The large and mostly impressive cast includes Bruce Greenwood as Stephen Meek, the real-life Indian-hating mountain-man guide who veers the wagon train dangerously off course, and Michelle Williams, as a young wife who stands up for a captured scout from the Cayuse tribe (Rod Rondeaux, impressively enigmatic).
Williams also starred in Reichardt’s last, and best, film, “Wendy and Lucy,” and she clearly has a special affinity for the director, for whom she shows off her subtlest shades. Grade: B (Rated PG for some mild violent content, brief language, and smoking.)