Imagine a collaboration between John Ford and Wallace Stevens and you might get a sense of what Kelly Reichardt (Wendy and Lucy) pulls off here: a sincere re-creation of the pioneer experience (2010), brought to life through careful, often unexpected detail. A small group of settlers, led by the self-mythologizing scout Meek, gets lost in the Oregon desert on its way west. The ensuing tension brings out everyone's worst qualities, which start to undermine the already fragile social dynamic. Given the emphasis screenwriter Jon Raymond places on religious fervor, naivete, and xenophobia, the film makes for an effective allegory about the United States' ongoing misdirection in confronting other cultures. Yet Reichardt keeps this so hypnotic from shot to shot that you can easily get wrapped up in it as a sensory experience. As the title character, Bruce Greenwood gives a fascinating and understated performance; the cast also includes Michelle Williams, Paul Dano, Will Patton, Zoe Kazan, and Shirley Henderson.
By Ben Sachs