Like Reichart’s last two movies, this is a bare sketch of a story. The cinematography is better, the film stock is less grainy, and there are more name actors joining Michelle Williams and Will Patton (both returning from Wendy and Lucy), including Paul “There Will Be Blood” Dano and the great Shirley Henderson from Yes.
Eventually the viewer picks up that a small wagon train (three families) is being led by a paid guide named Meek (Bruce Greenwood, guy who hires Kirk in the Star Trek remake), who seems to be lost. Action is shown somewhat from the women’s point of view, so when the men converse, making big decisions that affect our trip, they don’t get to participate much, until the semi-liberated Williams starts butting in. The group’s fresh water supply is running out when they capture an Indian who’s been following them, and the men appoint him their guide instead of Meek. One family’s wagon is destroyed when traversing a hill, and the others pitch in to help, but nobody is ever shot, or even gets sick – unusual for a Western. The Indian leads them to a large tree, someone points out that water must be nearby, he wanders off unchallenged, end of movie.
It’s a weird choice, that ending, so to understand the screenwriting I turned to T. Stempel’s column “Understanding Screenwriting.”
I heard a sound from the audience I can’t recall ever having heard before. They laughed, and they seemed to be laughing at themselves for having been taken in for 100 minutes by a movie that is not even going to bother finish telling the story it started out to tell.
So he doesn’t know either, but it seems to me like a self-consciously indie thing to do, a Cache move, as if the director thinks her film will be less artistic if she gives us too much information. Anyway, Stempel also says “the picture is slow, which makes sense because journeying by covered wagon was slow,” but it’s not as slow as Old Joy. I don’t suppose I’ve fallen in love with any of her three films so far, but I always enjoy the experience enough to turn up for the next one. EDIT: upon reflection, years later, I think about them lots, about their look and their moods, and so I suppose I do love them after all.