Certain Women (12A) | Close-Up Film Review

Dir. Kelly Reichardt, USA, 2016. 106 mins.

Cast: Laura Dern, Kristen Stewart, Michelle Williams, Lily Gladstone, Jared Harris, James Le Gros

It’s the quietness of this movie which is so remarkable – not silence as there is noise in the background: traffic, birds and even people’s breathing. But it is more the absence of speech which grabs one’s attention.

Director Kelly Reichardt has made a quite extraordinary film. The triptych of tales shows four women in separate stories, although they all have one thing in common, the beautiful Montana scenery, which Reichardt’s favourite cinematographer, Christopher Blauveit, shows to great advantage. Reichardt has not only directed the film, but also written and edited it and her hand is sure and wonderfully sensitive in all she touches.

Kelly Reichardt has based her film on three short stories set in Montana by the author Maiel Meloy. In Certain Women we see the stories of some Montana-based women unfold before our eyes. In the first segment we meet Laura (Laura Dern), a lawyer in the small town in which this is set, in her lunch-time rendezvous with her lover. Then we follow her as she deals with the case of a labourer called Fuller (Jared Harris) who is desperate to get money for a past accident at work. While Laura keeps telling him that he is never going to win his injury claim, it is not until she introduces him to a man who tells him exactly the same that he appears to accept it. Later she is called by police to intervene in a hostage situation involving Fuller. Laura helps but puts herself in danger in the process.

The second story sees Gina (Michelle Williams) with her husband Ryan (James Le Gros) and their discontented daughter. She is trying to repair relations between herself and husband (who we have seen leaving the bed of Laura in the first story) by building a weekend cottage from local materials. The two approach an elderly old man and get him to sell them his horde of sandstone. Gina later feels guilty about their coercion.

In the last of this triptych – and the most moving of the three tales – we see the Rancher (Lily Gladstone) falling for a teacher of law that she happens upon in an adult education class that she walks into. Young Beth (Kristen Stewart) has taken on the class because she needs the money. The trouble is she lives so far away that it takes her four hours each way to drive there. Over dinners that the two women share after each class, they develop a friendship and each learns a little more about the other’s life. When Beth suddenly quits her post, the Rancher follows her to her home town.

Each story is like a little jewel and although short without a lot of dialogue is told in exactly the right length. The acting is uniformly good with each of the actresses hitting on the right tone for the woman they are portraying. Almost silent, Lily Gladstone shows more through her eyes than most actresses achieve with loud shouting and dramatic tears.

Kelly Reichardt showed what she could do with filming lovely scenery in Meek’s Cutoff and in this film the Montana landscapes become part of the structure of the film. The stories are not really connected and yet the setting somehow joins then all together. Reichardt is a great filmmaker and I look forward to her next opus.

Review by Carlie Newman

Read Carlie’s interview with director Kelly Reichardt