To define the western is to articulate our history, to specify the essence of cinema, to understand what it is to be an American. The western is who we are, who we have been and who we always will be. The fact that the genre has fallen to the wayside in the last 20 years is a travesty that desecrates the traditions and transformative power it is capable of. In recent years, Eastwood and Costner have kept it alive, while Raimi, Howard and Mangold have demonstrated bravery and brilliance with their respective forays.
Kelly Reichardt may not be anyone's first choice to carry the crucial torch, but take another gander. Her penchant for austerity and transcendence makes her not too far off the mark as an idiosyncratic auteur of the American west. Her works Old Joy and Wendy and Lucy marked her as a deeply gifted artist with the peculiar gaze of a master.
Reichardt's new film, Meek's Cutoff, is a marvel of control and craftsmanship. Washing across the screen in a series of stagnant, picturesque images, as we follow a group of pioneers(Michelle Williams, Shirley Henderson, Paul Dano) led by the wirey, irrascible Meek (Bruce Greenwood), who have become lost on the frontier. But Reichardt's style is the opposite of guttural excitement, instead assembling all of the scenes which would have been chopped out of any other western. Her aesthetic is cutting room floor.
Starting with a slow pull which places the viewer in a trance, then builds to a powerpoint so much more than any other film could manage, it's safe to say that Reichardt is pioneering new devotions among the cinema starved, the history junkie, and anybody open to stylistic and thematic stripping down and building back up.