Two old friends reunite for a quietly revelatory overnight camping trip in this breakout feature from Kelly Reichardt, a microbudget study of character and masculinity that introduced many viewers to one of contemporary American cinema’s most independent artists. As expectant father Mark (Daniel London) and nomadic Kurt (Will Oldham) travel by car and foot into the woods in search of some secluded hot springs, their fumbling attempts to reconnect keep butting up against the limits of their friendship and the reality of how much their paths have diverged since their shared youth. Adapted from a short story by Jonathan Raymond and accompanied by an atmospheric Yo La Tengo score, Old Joy is a contemplative, wryly observed triumph whose modest scale belies the richness of its insight. Read More »
On the Oregon Trail in 1845, three couples travel in covered wagons with slippery guide Stephen Meek (an unrecognizable Bruce Greenwood), but days pass, and water remains elusive. Emily (Michelle Williams, who anchored Reichardt’s Wendy and Lucy) laments that “he’s gotten in over his head.” Meek insists that relief lies around the next ridge, but that’s never the case, until an alkaline lake appears. Unfortunately, it’s unsuitable for drinking, so they push on. Always attuned to the rhythms of nature, Reichardt has produced a meditative take on the genre that feels more enigmatic than most–with the possible exception of Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man–even if the period details always look right. With her focus on faded calico dresses and vast aquamarine skies, Meek’s Cutoff offers a beautiful vision of harsh times. Read More »
Traversing the West in search of work in Alaska, Wendy (Michelle Williams) and her dog, Lucy, are separated when Wendy’s car breaks down in a nameless, borderline decrepit city in Oregon. Accused of theft at a grocery store while Lucy waits outside, tethered to a pole, Wendy is held in the manager’s custody until the police can apprehend her, by which time Lucy has disappeared. Wendy’s progress in searching for Lucy is hampered by devastating news regarding the condition of her ancient Honda when it refuses to start one morning, plunging Lucy into full-fledged economic turmoil. The security guard at the Wal-Mart outside of which Wendy illegally parks and sleeps (the heartwarmingly sensitive and sage Walter Dalton) and the mechanic tending to her Honda (a matter-of-fact but empathetic Will Patton) do everything in their power for Wendy as they come to admire her grit and resolve. Read More »
Three strong-willed women (Kristen Stewart, Laura Dern, Michelle Williams) strive to forge their own paths amidst the wide-open plains of the American Northwest: a lawyer who finds herself contending with both office sexism and a hostage situation; a wife and mother whose determination to build her dream home puts her at odds with the men in her life; and a young law student who forms an ambiguous bond with a lonely ranch hand. Read More »
Kelly Reichhardt’s latest is concerned with three eco-activists Josh, Dena and Harmon (Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning, Peter Sarsgaard) who have decided to go further than their documentary-making, organic vegetable-farming compadres and blow up a dam. As they plot to do so, their conflicting characters, backgrounds and motivations are revealed. The operation is a success, of a kind, but has unintended consequences. Confident, ballsy Dena becomes an emotional wreck, sensitive, taciturn Josh grows more and more paranoid, and the conflicts become chasms. Read More »
River of Grass has all the elements of a conventional road movie: a car, a gun, criminal plans, and young lovers on the run from an angry father who also happens to be a suspended police officer. But writer and director Kelly Reichardt has instead taken these familiar elements and fashioned an anti-road movie, a deadpan film that is more existentialist comedy than crime drama. The young lovers in question are Cozy, the cop’s daughter, and Lee Ray, a shady character from the wrong end of town.
Lee Ray comes into possession of a pistol, and soon he and Cozy find themselves unintentionally involved in a shooting. Fearing capture by the law, the two make plans to leave town, committing a series of robberies on the way. However, they don’t manage to get very far; indeed, the film’s central premise is how the romantic myth of lovers on the lam proves disappointing in the face of a far more pedestrian reality.
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If something characterizes Reichardt’s work, it’s that it always finds its characters downhill. And if that vivid decadence, that pain of not being anymore that transmit the characters in River of Glass, Old Joy and Wendy and Lucy, her three features, already causes anguish, those great moments of pain captured by the director intensify, through condensation, in each of her short subjects. Death is lord and master in the shorts Then, a Year and Travis, and also in Ode, the only mid-length film by this daughter of cops (him, scientific; her, narcotics). Then, a Year combines, without attempting any kind of narrative, Reichardt in her adoptive Portland with a pastiche that mixes statements from different shows about crimes of passion. This idea is resumed in Travis, video-installation where that focus that never reaches the image, sensed as violent close-ups of a fixed photograph, is centered in politics: Reichardt infinitely loops fragments from the interview with a mother that has lost her son Travis in Iraq, and who, in every little confession, leaves a piece of her heart. Lastly, in Ode, the director shows the courage for loving of two young Baptists, capturing, for three quarters of an hour, the story of a love that could never be between Billy Joe and Bobbie Lee, and its tragic outcome. And the inevitable one, because there’s no place for the humbled joy of those poor old hearts in the oppressive world of the religious deep America. Read More »