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It is 1845 and a wagon team comprising of three families have hired mountain man Stephen Meek (Bruce Greenwood) to lead them over the Cascade Mountains to the Valley beyond. But when the group follows Meek along a shortcut he claims to know, they find themselves lost in a dry, harsh desert without water. As they continue along their way, conserving water and plagued by the uncertainty of their predicament, they come across a Native American Indian (Rod Rondeaux). While Meek suggests they shoot the Indian, the others believe he may be a more reliable guide than the man they have employed. Emily Tetherow (Michelle Williams) shows herself to be the strength of the group as they struggle against the elements and their lack of faith in each other's instincts for survival.

Review by Louise Keller:
There's something mesmerising about this low budget Western set in the mid 19th century in the early days of the Oregon Trail. Director Kelly Reichhardt has created a rich and moody film in which we live and breathe the experiences of its characters as they struggle to survive - physically and psychologically.

It is 1845 and a wagon team comprising three families have hired mountain man Stephen Meek (Greenwood) to lead them over the Cascade Mountains. 'We're not lost; we're just finding our way,' says Meek, when the group follows him along a shortcut he claims to know, ending up in a dry desert with water running scarce.

Story and dialogue play second fiddle to ambience. It is our senses that are shaped and coloured through the cinematic imagery of the harsh setting, compounded by a powerful minimalist score. Strings moan wavering discordant notes, emulating the precarious situation in which the characters find themselves. I felt as though I had been transported into an unforgiving landscape and at the mercy of the elements. This is a poetic and subtle film that indie film-lovers will savour.

Symbolically, it is half way through the film the group opts to rely on the Indian that startles Emily (Williams) when she collecting firewood, instead of Meek who believe is ignorant or evil. The scene when Emily shows great courage and strength, pulling a gun on Meek, is the film's most potent with Williams unforgettable.

Reichhardt paints the scene as she would a painting. Bullocks pulls covered wagons through a river. The blue water is clear; all we hear is the sound of it gurgling. It is a tranquil setting but life is not easy. The mechanics of survival are tough and water is integral to the existence of the immigrants as the film's opening scenes show. How small and insignificant they look as the party crosses the horizon. As they keep moving across the plains, we hear the squeak of the wagon wheels, the snorting of the horses and the clip-clop of the hooves.

If you saw Reichhardt's haunting 2008 film Wendy and Lucy (also with Williams), you will understand how a film can manifest itself by mood.
Published first in the Sun-Herald

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(US, 2010)

CAST: Michelle Williams, Bruce Greenwood, Will Patton, Zoe Kazan, Paul Dano, Shirley Henderson, Neal Huff, Tommy Nelson, Rod Rondeaux

PRODUCER: Elizabeth Cuthrell, Neil Kopp, Anish Savjani, David Urrutia

DIRECTOR: Kelly Reichhardt

SCRIPT: Jon Raymond


EDITOR: Kelly Reichardt

MUSIC: Jeff Grace


RUNNING TIME: 104 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: Melbourne (ACMI): June 2, 2011; Brisbane (Tribal): June 23, 2011; Melbourne (Nova): June 23, 2011; Sydney (Dendy Newtown): June 30, 2011

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