Monday, June 10, 2019
River of Grass
Written and directed by Kelly Reichardt from a story by Reichardt and Jesse Hartman, River of Grass is the story of a couple who find themselves involved in a shooting incident as they try to flee South Florida but deal with the lack of funds to do so. It’s a film that explore a bad night where two people with an incident that they may or may not have been involved in as they also deal with their own issues in their lives that stop them from fleeing trouble. Starring Lisa Bowman, Larry Fessenden, Michael Buscemi, Greg Schroeder, Santo Fazio, Dick Russell, and Sheila Korsi. River of Grass is an offbeat yet compelling film from Kelly Reichardt.
A married woman with children meets a man at a bar as he had recently gained a lost gun where they go to someone’s home to swim in that person’s pool only to accidentally shoot the gun as they believe they had killed someone. It’s a film that has this simple premise with not much of a plot as it play into two directionless individuals who find a gun and then try to leave South Florida after they believed they had killed someone. Yet, leaving South Florida with little money and lack of direction is part of the problem as Kelly Reichardt doesn’t aim for a traditional narrative as it play into this air of uncertainty for these two people. Notably as Cozy (Lisa Bowman) is a woman with children she has no emotional attachment to while her husband is often away at work where much of the film is told from her perspective through voice-over narration. Upon meeting Lee (Larry Fessenden) at a bar, they drink and have fun until they go to someone’s house with a gun that Lee found. What neither of them know is that the gun belonged to Cozy’s father Jimmy (Dick Russell) who had lost it after chasing someone at another bar.
Reichardt’s direction is largely low-key while it does have bits of style in the film in terms of the compositions that she creates. Shot on location in small towns in both Broward and Dade County in Florida including parts of Ft. Lauderdale and Miami, Reichardt definitely play into this air of realism into the locations while it also add to the suspense and drama that Cozy and Lee are going through. Even as they don’t have a lot of money and do whatever they can to get money where Lee would go to his grandmother’s house and steal things including records and his mother’s shoes only to get nothing. Reichardt would use some wide shots of the film’s locations though it is shot on a 1:33:1 full-frame aspect ratio where Reichardt uses the format to play into the intimacy between the characters in the close-ups and medium shots including scenes inside the car.
Reichardt’s direction also goes into great detail of the locations of where the gun is first found as well as certain places the characters go to where even though South Florida is quite vast with its cities and beaches including glimpses of the Everglades. The fact that characters would encounter each other without knowing who they are or not see them properly as it add to the intrigue of Jimmy’s search for the missing gun as well as who accidentally shot a gun. Reichardt’s direction also play into this air of uncertainty as it relates to the realism of what Cozy and Lee are going through that include this climatic scene at the tollbooth where it is about finding a quarter to pay the toll. That air of realism but also a sense of loss about how life never turns out the way some wanted it to be adds to the heaviness of the drama where Reichardt doesn’t make it heavy-handed. Instead, she reveals the severity of their situation and their inability to deal with the real world and take both the good and bad in what they have. Overall, Reichardt crafts a mesmerizing yet unconventional road drama about a couple who get into trouble and escape South Florida.
Cinematographer Jim Denault does excellent work with the film’s cinematography as it has this sort of grainy look in the photography yet maintains something that is natural in the daytime exteriors and usage of available light for some of the interiors at night. Sound designer/editor Larry Fessenden does terrific work with the editing and sound as the former is presented in a straightforward manner with a few jump cuts while the latter is also presented in a straight approach with some sparse sounds of the locations including how music is presented. Production designer David Doernberg does nice work with the look of Lee’s room at his grandmother’s house as well as the home that Cozy lives in. Costume designer Sara Jane Slotnick does wonderful work with the costumes as it is largely straightforward to play into the summer heat of Florida. The film’s music by John Hill is brilliant for its usage of jazz music as well as a soundtrack that features an array of music from jazz, alternative rock, and country music.
The film’s superb cast feature notable small roles and appearances from Sheila Korsi as a depressed woman at a bar, Greg Schroeder as Jimmy’s detective friend Bobby, Santo Fazio as Jimmy’s dickhead superior, Michael Buscemi as Lee’s friend Doug, and Stan Kaplan as Cozy’s husband J.C. Dick Russell is fantastic as Cozy’s father Jimmy as a jazz musician who works as a detective as he laments over his lost gun and Cozy’s sudden disappearance where he focuses on a case relating to a shooting accident. Larry Fessenden is excellent as Lee as this guy who copes with being unemployed and uncertain about his life as he is locked out of his grandmother’s home only to find a gun but has no clue what to do where he and Cozy go on the run as he struggles to figure out what to do. Finally, there’s Lisa Bowman in an amazing performance as Cozy as a mother/housewife who feels disconnected from her family life as she is eager to get out upon meeting Lee as it leads to trouble but also this need to make a new life but deal with the harsh realities of their situation.
River of Grass is a marvelous film from Kelly Reichardt. Featuring a great cast, superb images, a wild music soundtrack, and themes of trouble and wanting a new life but unable to deal with reality. It’s a film that play into a couple who get into trouble unaware of what happened and then panic over their inability to escape due to their lack of resources. In the end, River of Grass is a remarkable film from Kelly Reichardt.
Kelly Reichardt Films: Old Joy - Wendy & Lucy - Meek's Cutoff - Night Moves (2013 film) - Certain Women - First Cow – (Showing Up) - (The Auteurs #72: Kelly Reichardt)
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