If there’s one thing you can count on from indie filmmaker Kelly Reichardt, it’s a keen and unwavering ability to bring the viewer into the world of the outsider as few other filmmakers can. Her body of work, including “Night Moves,” “River of Grass” and “Wendy and Lucy,” are proof positive.
You can now add “Certain Women” to that testament, a film which moves so slowly you can take in nearly every quiet detail of every scene, a credit to Reichardt’s writing and direction and the stunning cinematography of Christopher Blauvelt, who paints a portrait with every scene he frames.
Set in landlocked southern Montana, “Certain Women” centers on three short stories of four determined women struggling to come to terms with the hand life has dealt them. Laura (Laura Dern) is an attorney in a predominantly man’s world, relegated to the cases no one wants, including her latest one, which centers on a mentally unstable client (Jared Harris). Her affair with a married townsman named Ryan (James Le Gros) serves as the faintest thread tying her story to that of Gina (Michelle Williams), the man’s wife, who lives for the building of her dream house out of native stone and other reclaimed materials. The home might very well represent the only stable aspect of her life.
The third story centers on a recent law school graduate, Elizabeth (Kristen Stewart), who must drive four hours each way into rural Montana to teach a night course on school law to handful of local educators who want to discuss contractual issues such as sick days and overtime instead of the curriculum at hand. She endures the twice-weekly ordeal because, as she tells a rancher (played with captivating facial expressions by newcomer Lily Gladstone), who wanders into the class for lack of much else to do, she didn’t want to end up selling shoes. Their shared moments — over meals at the local diner and riding horseback to and from the eatery — are the film’s most potent. The longing in the lonely rancher’s eyes requires no dialogue to punctuate it. (The tie that binds Dern’s story and Stewart’s is priceless.)
Overall, the dialogue throughout the film is as sparse as its wintry Montana countryside setting; the omnipresent howling wind provides much of the movie’s equally minimalist soundtrack. The quiet speaks volumes.
Each woman is flawed, and there most definitely are four, not three (as the film’s marketing proclaims), to contend with here. There is a profound emptiness that engulfs each of them, and each will come to terms with the hand she is dealt. The outcome may not be what you (or they) expected.
IFC presents a film directed by Kelly Reichardt. Written by Reichardt and Maile Meloy. Running time: 107 minutes. Rated R (for some language). Opening Friday at local theaters.