River of Grass

River of Grass ★★★

Amazon Prime (Purchase)

Kelly Reichardt's debut feature looks and sounds great: even with very few resources at her disposal, her talent as a director was clear from the off, from the interesting framings to the lively jazz and blues soundtrack. But narratively it feels very much like a first time film, with lots of ideas which go nowhere, variable acting and characters who don't feel especially likeable or even particularly interesting. It features a grab-bag of genre influences, from the lovers on the run of Bonnie and Clyde and Badlands to the laid back cool of the French New Wave with a bit of grizzled cop movie and Tarantino-esque thriller thrown in for good measure, as well as the detached, absurd irony of the Coen brothers. Unsurprisingly, it doesn't quite come together, but it is very interesting how Reichardt twists these influences slightly- the lovers on the run never become lovers; the crime they are running from didn't actually happen; the cops hunting them down get nowhere near catching them. You have to admire the laid-back energy of the story, even if it isn't always especially coherent, and the ending, in which Cozy firmly and finally rejects the men who have held her down and held her back her whole life.

The underlying themes that Reichardt suggests here- the grinding effects of poverty, the feeling of entrapment and boredom in everyday suburban life- would resurface in more complete form in her later work. To this end, River of Grass is worth watching for the Reichardt completionist, although she would of course go on to better (if not always especially bigger) things.

It is also worth pointing out that the decade-long wait between this and her fantastic breakout film Old Joy, during which time Reichardt could not find any producer willing to support her work is and remains a stain on the male-centric movie industry: she of course was not the only female filmmaker to suffer this. However looking at her subsequent career (and especially with excitement high for the release of her latest film First Cow) I think we can safely say that she had the last laugh.

Joe liked these reviews