River of Grass

River of Grass ★★★★

River of Grass deserves to be mentioned alongside those unique and remarkably auspicious debut features that sprung onto the American independent scene in the early to mid-nineties. A list that includes, but is not limited to, Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs, Wes Anderson's Bottle Rocket, Kevin Smith's Clerks, Lodge Kerrigan's Clean, Shaven and Paul Thomas Anderson's Hard Eight.

Written and directed by Kelly Reichardt (b. 1964), the film is an astutely rendered neo-noir that partakes in the genre's conventions in order to cunningly subvert them. However, unlike a number of other such films, it feels like the genuine, thoughtfully fleshed out article rather than another tired, self-conscious exercise. Reichardt, who was born and raised in Miami, has suitably set her effort in some sleepy, underdeveloped junction of Broward and Dade counties, not far from the Everglades, which, according to our protagonist's disaffected voice-over, were called "River of Grass" by the Indians.

Beautifully played by Lisa Bowman, Cozy is the least likely homemaker who just happens to be a mother of two. Constantly lost in her thoughts, seemingly resigned to fate, she eventually meets her match in a 29-year-old deadbeat (Larry Fessenden, who also edited and co-produced the film) and decides to go on the lam with him after presuming that the man she accidentally pulled the trigger on—with her crime-scene detective father's lost gun, no less—is dead.

Reichardt vividly details their excursion, which encompasses a rundown motel and miles upon miles of shabby back roads (when these outlaws do eventually decide to take the highway in order to leave the state, they can't even come up with the toll). Indelibly poetic moments include Cozy's impassive mien being flashed on by a string of street lights and, later, her sway to "I'm travelin' light"— one of numerous echoes of seventies' American cinema felt in the film. Shot on 16mm with a crew of 13—which Reinchardt deemed to be too large!—River of Grass makes good on Godard's notion that all you really need to make a movie is a girl and a gun.

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