Every Kelly Reichardt’ Movies Ranked

Kelly Reichardt

My films are just glimpses of people passing through

  • Kelly Reichardt (in her interview to ‘Guardian’)


The works of independent film-maker Kelly Reichardt doesn’t boast any overt political, social or gender commentary. Yet her films tracking down the lives of marginalized characters are more profound than the works of film-makers who potently sum-up their messages. Reichardt’s movies belong to indie cinema’s sub-genre called ‘mumblecore’, which derives its influence from Neo-realism by using naturalistic acting and improvised dialogues. The films belonging to this sub-genre focuses more on the individual’s struggles and there’s less emphasis on plot. Director Reichardt is fascinated in observing her character’s unarticulated emotions. Her oeuvre is not heavy on symbolism or metaphor; she just wants to arrest the haunting emotions of an individual within the frame. She gives the space for viewers to learn about the characters through their silence & fleeting emotions than well articulated words. Poverty and loneliness are the predominant themes in Reichardt’s film, although she perfectly rejects sentimentality and other dramatic quotients associated with those themes.

All in all, Kelly Reichardt is one of my most favorite contemporary film-makers. As Mr. Sam Littman opens his article on Reichardt inSenses of Cinema’, she is ‘an unlikely ambassador of current American independent cinema’.

Kelly Reichardt was born in 1964 in Miami-Dade County, Florida, USA. Her father was a crime-scene technician and mother worked as a narcotics agent.  Before the age of 10, Reichardt’s parents had a divorce. The director recalls that she used her dad’s crime-scene camera to start taking pictures. Reichardt was so engrossed by photography that she took classes from her 7th grade. She made her first non-narrative super-8 films at Museum School in Boston. Then Reichardt was involved in making music videos. She worked in Todd Haynes’ second feature-film “Poison” (1991) – responsible for set and props. Working in that film led to the fruitful friendship with director Haynes, who immensely supported her works. More importantly, it was Haynes who introduced novelist Jonathan Raymond to Kelly Reichardt. Raymond’s short stories were adapted by Reichardt into “Old Joy” and “Wendy & Lucy”.

Raymond also co-wrote the script for the director’s best work “Meek’s Cutoff” and the close-to-genre film “Night Moves”. In 1994, Reichardt made her feature-film debut with “River of Grass”, a darkly funny road movie, set in her native Florida. The film, although got nominated for Grand Jury Prize at Sundance Film Festival and hailed by prominent critics, didn’t help finance her next project. It took 12 years for Reichardt to make her second feature-film. In the 12 year gap, she made a 48 minute film ‘Ode’ and couple of short films. Reichardt’s distinct visual expression in second film “Old Joy” (2006) cemented her reputation as important voice of American indie cinema. From then on, she has made four critically acclaimed movies, weaving subtle and mesmerizing existential journeys.


6. Night Moves (2013)

In ‘Night Moves’, starring Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning and Peter Skarsgaard, Kelly Reichardt used her nuanced film techniques to take on a basic Hollywood-style paranoid thriller. Two young environmental activists, working in health stores gets chance to do their part in Eco-activism with ex-Marine. Their mission to blow-up a hydroelectric dam faces unforeseen consequences. Although the ending didn’t satisfy me, Reichardt’s attuned direction and profound observation of human nature gives the film a remarkable quality. Even this least favorite movie in Reichardt’s oeuvre has a riveting atmosphere to behold.


5. River of Grass (1994)

In many ways, Reichardt’s debut feature differs from her subsequent works. The witty dose is a bit higher, and the stillness & observation of silence we find in her later works is missing. Nevertheless, it has a non-action narrative like her other movies. ‘River of Grass’ seems to be a minimalist take on Malick’s “Badlands” and Scott’s “Thelma & Louise”. A bored, depressed thirty-something housewife Cozy (Lisa Bowman) breaks away from the mundanity. She’s accompanied by a young, good-for-naught guy named Lee, who also possesses a gun. Even though this story line may seem familiar, you don’t get to see the usual sexually-charged, highly dramatic escape movie. Reichardt’s instincts to observe the monotony of course brings up the fascination. The disenchanted people, wandering around aimlessly, in the lonely roads of America, a singular vision you could repeatedly find in her works.


4. Old Joy (2006)

In this less-is-more examination of male friendship, Reichardt’s central characters are Mark and Kurt, two thirty-something friends, who head out to Oregon’s Cascade Mountains for a weekend. The old friends haven’t seen one another for a considerable period of time. Kelly Reichardt lingers on the natural indisposition and awkwardness of these two men to make a sublime comment on how the passage of time transforms relationships. This study in quietude actually makes us implode with emotions to eventually lament on the things vanished in our lives. For instance, the vast majestic American wilderness only increases the despondent feeling. Both ‘Old Joy’ and ‘Wendy & Lucy’ were considered to be Reichardt’s subtle, tangible exploration of the Bush-era despair.


3. Certain Women (2016)

Based on the American writer Maile Melloy’s short story collection, “Certain Women” tells three very loosely connected tales of four women (played by Laura Dern, Michelle Williams, Kristen Stewart, and Lily Gladstone), living in the oft-forgotten American Midwestern region. There’s possibility for drama in each of the chapters, but Reichardt concentrates on the multitude of inexpressible sorrows. I always feel that the director’s style of keeping the shots run for extra 10 or 20 seconds allows us to share the space with characters than watch their life unfold in fleeting snapshots. In ‘Certain Women’, she fine-tunes that power of restrained aesthetics.

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2. Wendy & Lucy (2008)

In the pitch-perfect neo-realist tale ‘Wendy & Lucy’, Reichardt delves into a mundane world of small cruelties and fleeting kindness. The protagonist Wendy is a young drifter, en-route to Alaska in an old car with a dog named Lucy. The car breaks down in Oregon and the dog gets lost. Short on money, Wendy spends some time in the town, figuring out palpable solution for the problems, while also confronting the unconquerable existential angst. The defeat and desperation that came with the American economic downturn is subtly ingrained in Reichadt’s visuals. Michelle Williams’ Wendy downplays the emotions of frustration and despair works rather than being outwardly persuasive.

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1. Meek’s Cutoff (2011)

In anti-Western “Meek’s Cutoff”, Kelly Reichardt takes us to the Wild West Oregon trail of 1845. This film tells the story of three families walking along Oregon Trail with all their possessions bundled into wagons. The families are led by Stephen Meek, a wilderness scout with scraggly locks and long beard. Of course, like her other films the plot details are minimal as Reichardt is dependent on unhurried aesthetics. Michelle Williams once again plays the central role: Mrs. Tetherow, a tough resourceful woman. Meek’s Cutoff provides the rare female perspective on the American frontier tales. Indeed, this film and Certain Women are I think the least appealing movies for those unfamiliar with Reichardt’s oeuvre (despite the glacial pace, ‘Wendy & Lucy’ has an easy-to-connect humanistic core). Nevertheless, when we patiently immerse ourselves in this deliberately vague, morally ambiguous, stripped-down scenario, we can experience an invigorating introspective journey.

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