Petrakis, John, The Christian Century
Directed by Kelly Reichardt
Starring Michelle Williams and
It's 1845, and three couples in rickety covered wagons are headed west on the Oregon Trail. To lead them they have hired Stephen Meek (Bruce Greenwood), a cocky mountain man who has wooed the wide-eyed couples and the one child aboard with tales of his many accomplishments, his knowledge of the Indian tribes and his "let's do this" bravado.
But as Meek's Cutoff begins, things are not going well. The pioneers look exhausted and confused, their animals tired and sick. Any doubt about their grim situation is clarified once the boy scratches the single word lost on a sun-bleached boulder.
The film is based on a true story chronicled in bits and pieces over the years. It starts out quietly and slows down from there. In a perfect union of tempo and content, director Kelly Reichardt and writer Jonathan Raymond strive to suggest both the journey's difficulty and its tedium; it's filled with daily tasks undertaken as the pioneers' confidence in their chatty leader starts to drain away.
The laconic men, led by the wary Soloman Tetherow (Will Patton), are not quite sure what to make of Meek, whose daily reassurances that they are on the right path are beginning to ring hollow. The women, especially the strong and capable Emily Tetherow (Michelle Williams), are less conflicted. They sense that Meek, like many of the men they have encountered over the years, is a charlatan, a first-class liar who is escorting them to their doom. …