River of Grass

River of Grass ★★

Very America, very indie, very 90s. River of Grass spreads out with the sluggish flow of an old river, lazily meandering across the plains. It’s a vivid, lazy insight into American rural life, of life being wasted away— or perhaps it has already been swept away without being noticed, leaving only a numb, mindless malaise in its wide wake. Yet the micro-budget of this debut feature reveals itself all too much, for the performances and the style remain as rough and unformed as the characters themselves.

Cozy is a dissatisfied house wife, living in rural Florida, in a loveless marraige, worn into a rut of boring routine. Her routine is (ostensibly) shattered when she meets Lee, and— specifically— the misplaced handgun he has found. Unbeknownst to her, this gun is the same one lost by her father, a local cop. This premise, of a cop losing his status-symbol of a weapon, is reminiscent of Kurosawa’s Stray Dog. In that feature, the gun represented honour and reliability, a certainty of identity amid the uncertainty of Japan’s postwar trajectory. Contrasting this, River of Grass has its lost weapon represents power and change— the catalyzing force that can break routine, and spur on adventure. The way this gun is handled reveals an insidious (and very American) danger; its treated flippantly, excitedly, as some kind of invitation to agency, or a ticket away to a new life.  

There’s a humorous spin to the lovers-on-the-run genre here, but the power of the film feels too washed out, too tired and too drained of its own energy. The pace bears a nascent spectre of Reichardt later style, although the end result does remain rather underdeveloped and unfocused.

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