| This minimalist Western set in 1845 shows what it was like traveling by oxen-drawn wagon across the high plain desert. Three families hire mountain man Stephen Meek ( a bearded, nearly unrecognizable Bruce Greenwood from "Mao's Last Dancer" and "The World's Fastest Indian") to guide them over the Cascade Mountains.
He claims to know a short cut and leads them on an unmarked path off the Oregon Trail. They struggle to survive a rigorous journey. They encounter heat, wind and insects. One member of the party carves the word "LOST" on a dead tree, summing up their dire predicament.
Their biggest concern becomes finding water as they wander aimlessly. They encounter a solitary American Indian (Rod Rondeaux), and, losing trust in Meeks, they blindly follow the Indian over the next hill.
Director Kelly Reichardt ("Wendy and Lucy") is a stickler for meticulous detail in this period piece. She fills the screen with natural surroundings, authentic costumes, props and antique artifacts.
The simple story with a feminist spin becomes tedious. It seems longer than the running time of 104 minutes. The movie lacks compelling characters and the trivial conversations are mumbled. The movie ends abruptly with no resolution.
Michelle Williams ("Blue Valentine" and "Brokeback Mountain") plays Emily Tetherow, a young wife. She stands out as the practical voice of reason. She has a spirited exchange with Meek about the difference between men and women. He describes the former as destruction and the latter as chaos.
This low-budget movie shot in the middle of nowhere belongs on the History Channel with commercials to break up the monotony.
It will definitely divide audiences. Some may find it a graceful and understated master class in observation. Others may be put to sleep.
This window into the past premiered at the 2010 Venice Film Festival where it was nominated for the Golden Lion. Having been shown worldwide at 20 film festivals, it received a big endorsement when chosen by an overwhelming majority of film critics and bloggers as the best narrative film at the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival, topping "The King's Speech," "Black Swan" and "127 Hours."
Opening exclusively at the Glenwood Arts for a limited engagement.
Keith Cohen "The Movie Guy"