In the stark, arid landscape of the Oregon Trail, a small group of people wander aimlessly towards an uncertain destination. Kelly Reichardt's remarkable Meek's Cutoff tracks the three families who have followed their guide Stephen Meek (an unrecognisable Bruce Greenwood) into the wilderness, and examines the critical decisions they are faced with as they realise they are hopelessly lost. Do they stick with this increasingly unreliable and mysterious blowhard? Or do they follow a different path, one that could lead them to either salvation or damnation?
Simultaneously a compelling allegory and a hallucinatory fable, Meek's Cutoff is the most ambitious and accomplished film Reichardt has yet made. Thanks to her rigorous and richly atmospheric direction, her impressive use of sound (and, just as potently, silence) and her brilliant work with the cast, Meek's Cutoff feels like a distinctive and precious American masterwork. The film's vivid sense of place and unsettling ambiguity lend it a timeless, dreamlike quality, making it both the strangest and finest revisionist western since Jim Jarmusch's Dead Man. [Philip Concannon]