I don’t quite know how to describe the movies that Kelly Reichardt makes. There are the highly reductive terms that were commonly used to describe her latest, Meek’s Cutoff: slow, small, understated. I can see how someone could decide each of those words is wholly applicable to the work, but they don’t really match up with my experience with the film. There’s an undeniable firm quiet to the storytelling as Reichardt depicts the increasingly worrisome circumstances as a small group of journeyers traverse the Oregon Trail in the mid nineteenth century. The film is defiantly eschews anything flashy, preferring to operate at a tone and tenor that strives to match the somber stasis of the era. When it takes months to get from one place to another, a person doesn’t learn patience, they operate with it as a default mode. The film honors that pace which serves to make the hardship more palpable, the conflicts more fraught. Recihardt’s camera lingers over the vast, barren landscape, capturing its beauty and also its foreboding nature. It may look like an enticing frontier that holds potential over every crest, but there’s also the constant threat that it may ultimately be unconquerable, felling anyone foolhardy enough to cross it. Since Reichardt isn’t interested in pushing the viewer or spelling out the material in an obvious manner, the performances of the assembled actors are key to developing the emotions of the piece. Bruce Greenwood is squirrely and highly ignitable as the overly confident guide who gets the caravan into its predicament and Will Patton is stolid and thoughtful as one of the travelers. Unsurprisingly, the smartest, most forceful work comes from Michelle Williams in just another argument for her as the most vital actress of her generation. So what’s the best word to use to describe Meek’s Cutoff? “Masterful” comes to mind.