Having finally caught up with Kelly Reichardt's latest feature, it feels right to follow it up with her debut, 1994's River of Grass, which recently underwent a much-needed restoration/reclamation. Set and filmed in Dade County, Florida, where Reichardt grew up and knew intimately, this River flows from the chance intersection of the lives of a disenchanted wife and mother and a disaffected layabout who happens to have come into possession of a handgun. Moreover, the gun happens to have been lost by the woman's father, a crime scene detective who, much like Toshiro Mifune in Stray Dog, is desperate to recover it before it's used in a crime.
Taking inspiration from Terrence Malick's Badlands, Reichardt has her tale of non-lovers needlessly on the run be narrated by the 30-something Cozy (novice Lisa Bowman, who filled in for another actress who bailed out at the last minute), who's more than ready to escape her staid existence with the help of the impulsive Lee (Larry Fessenden). Together, they hole up in a motel when they mistakenly believe they've shot and killed a man, while Cozy's father, Det. Ryder (Dick Russell), searches high and low for his gun and his daughter until a colleague points out the likelihood that the two cases are one and the same. (That they didn't actually kill anyone is lost on Cozy until very late in the game, though.)
Possessing the kind of manic energy that has largely been absent from Reichardt's more recent work, River of Grass remains a key film in her career since it forged her professional relationship with Fessenden, who agreed to be in it on condition that he also get to edit it. (In addition, he's credited with the sound design and is one of the associate producers.) Since then, he's had a hand in many of her subsequent films, supporting and encouraging her as needed. That he has been in her corner right from the start and stayed there is one of the reasons why she's still making them today. That they have something to offer that mainstream films and even many independents don't is the reason why people keep watching them.