Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB. USA, 2016. Film Science, Stage 6 Films. Screenplay by Kelly Reichardt, based on stories by Maile Meloy. Cinematography by Christopher Blauvelt. Produced by Neil Kopp, Vincent Savino, Anish Savjani. Music by Jeff Grace. Production Design by Anthony Gasparro. Costume Design by April Napier. Film Editing by Kelly Reichardt. Gotham Awards 2016. Independent Spirit Awards 2016. Toronto International Film Festival 2016.
Kelly Reichardt adapts three stories by Maile Meloy and gives them a slight connecting thread. Laura Dern is excellent in the best of the three as a lawyer whose mentally injured client (Jared Harris) has already lost his battle with his former employer but still thinks he has grounds to sue for the negligence that caused his accident. She tries to shake the situation off but has to deal with him when she gets a call late at night that he is holed up in an office building with a rifle and a hostage. The second tale has James Le Gros and Michelle Williams as a couple who stop at the home of a friend (Rene Auberjonois) on their way home from a camping trip and ask him if they can buy the pile of sandstone blocks lying in front of his house to use for a construction project; it doesn’t sound like much of a story, but watching Williams force herself to be soft and sweet to those outside her family while her sullen teenage daughter and passive husband force her to be Mean Mommy is further satisfying proof of her subtle powers as a performer. The third and least effective story has a bland performance from Lily Gladstone as a ranch hand who attends a local community college class because she is transfixed with the teacher (Kristen Stewart), spending time with her in diners but afraid to go beyond friendly small talk. This story should have so much power in its repression but Gladstone doesn’t have the inner life of the previous two actresses and the experience falls flat. It’s not a perpetually riveting or unforgettable film, but Reichardt has a wonderful ability to create a natural pace and rhythm that never feel pretentious or self-congratulatory, and her camera probes the psyche of her characters without showing off a gimmicky technique.