River of Grass

River of Grass ★★★★

A stunning debut from one of the great unsung female directors Kelly Reichardt, River of Grass is an enigmatic puzzle of a film that takes inspiration from a horde of identifiable sources yet remains truly unique.

Reichardt channels everything from French New Wave and film noir to contemporary indie filmmakers like Jarmusch and Tarantino. Terrence Malick is perhaps the most indebted to, with the Badlands type story and laconic narration that conjures up a dreamscape world of urban decay and middle-of-nowhere tedium. Endlessly playful, the film toys with quick cutting, photo montage and non-linear narrative, often overlain with a jazz score. Reichardt is always looks to subvert the expected and use tropes wryly, as she did with the anti-western Meek's Cutoff she also does to the crime drama here. The hillbilly Bonnie and Clyde couple of the story are never really on the run in the first place, they merely aspire to be if only to draw them out of the boredom of their blue collar existence.

As expected for a first feature, there is raw talent on display but the inexperience shows in the roughness of the grungy presentation. It would be another twelve years before Reichardt would make another film, the very wonderful Old Joy, a time in which she matured massively and emerged having fully developed her own style and identity.

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