Kelly Reichardt has been making independent films for 20 years now. All her films are about drifters and outcasts and people are who barely surviving and they have abrupt endings. She has been based in Portland, Oregon for some time now and almost all her films are set in Oregon. Reichardt’s debut film was the unremarkable River of Grass made in her native Florida and she didn’t make another feature length film 2006.
Her next film however was Old Joy, which is a fascinating film about friendship in the Cascade Mountains. It stars the musician Will Oldham as Kurt who goes on a camping trip with his old friend Mark (Daniel London). Mark is about to become a father and gives him a much-needed break. The film has been described as a “gay film” by some critics and there is a certainly a homoerotic subtext, and it’s even in the gay section on Netflix. It’s more of a meditative tale about a friendship between two men and whether it’s sexual or not is up to the viewer. It also features a nice score by indie rockers Yo La Tengo
She followed it up with Wendy & Lucy, which stars Michelle Williams. Like all of her films, it’s a very simple story: Wendy has a dog called Lucy (Kelly’s own dog called Lucy who was also in Old Joy) and wants to move to Alaska to start a new life up there. She gets stranded in a Portland, Oregon with no money. She gets caught shoplifting at a local supermarket and returns the next day to find her beloved dog missing and she tries frantically to find it. It’s a nice subtle indie film which is reminiscent of 70s cinema like Five Easy Pieces , it also has a very strong lead performance from Michelle Williams and a powerful moving ending.
Meek’s Cutoff is the final film in the set and the best. It’s a slow burning western set on the Oregon Trail and based on a real historical incident. Stephen Meek (Bruce Greenwood) leads a group of settlers though the Oregon landscape and may or may not know where is going. The rest of the settlers are getting annoyed at the continuing length of what was supposed to be a short week journey. They capture a Native American and the control of the expedition seems to be in doubt. It’s photographed in an aspect ratio of 4:3, which brings to mind the classic Hollywood westerns and it suits the epic landscape very well. The performances from Michelle Williams, Paul Dano and an unrecognizable Bruce Greenwood are convincing and strong. It’s slow but an ultimately rewarding journey and Reichardt’s finest film to date.
The discs include a Q&A from Reichardt, some making of footage for Meek’s Cutoff and the short stories, which are the basis for Old Joy and Wendy & Lucy. Kelly Reichardt is one of the most unique voices in American cinema with a minimalistic approach to storytelling, even if, in some ways, she continues to make the same film over and over again. Her new film Night Moves, which this release is to coincide with, comes out soon; from the evidence of this boxset, her films get better with each film so it could be her best film yet.
Wendy And Lucy
River Of Grass
25th August 2014 (UK)
Buy:Kelly Reichardt Box Set [Blu-ray]