The opening shot of Certain Women sets focus on a long freight train that stretches out across the Montana landscape and while slow in pace, it’s also solitary and headstrong in its singular mission. Kelly Reichardt’s film emulates this early scene throughout with a slow-paced, but assured, insight into the lives of four different women who lead separate lives but somehow overlap with either a moment of destiny or just like life that passes around us every day.
Dexterously directed by Reinhardt, Certain Women has an impressive ensemble cast but the narrative is far beyond the big names and instead follows certain moments as we delve into their day-to-day existence. Effectively split into three different stories, we begin with a look inside Laura Dern’s character Laura, a lawyer practising in the small town of Livingston. She’s dealing with the unusual case of Fuller (portrayed by Jared Harris), a slightly weak-minded male who seems crushed by his own existence after a series of events has set him on a dark path. She’s out to help him but he doesn’t do much to help himself. Laura is assertive throughout, in both character and with Fuller, and as she tries to assist it all builds to an unintentionally hilarious ‘shoot out’ where events take a natural, amusing turn and Fuller validates his own stupidity.
Our second story is of Michelle Williams’ Gina, her husband and their daughter, who are trying to build their own house. At first we’re unsure what they’re trying to move away from but it’s also clear relationship between all three seems strained, and there’s a link between previous events if you pay attention. The one thing you definitely noticed with Gina is her vision, you can feel it behind the walls they’ve all built up and over time she’ll move forwards, even in times that are difficult to manage. Williams is strong as always and captivating, her character is a simple representation with a complex underbelly which reflects a struggle against circumstance and wanting to make the best of it.
The men featured in both opening stories are the by-product of the world around them and while they play a part, it’s deeply refreshing to have the women in charge, a point that’s admitted to by Gina’s husband after an old man exclaims that she works for him but he’s quick to point out that ‘she’s the boss’.
The final third offers up the stand-out story of Kristen Stewart’s Elizabeth and newcomer Lily Gladstone’s ranch worker. The latter gives a sterling performance full of honesty and a genuine connection, or desire for something better. During their meetings, she thinks she sees the same yearning in Elizabeth, even if she’s not entirely sure if she feels the same way. Their chemistry is both awkward and earthy, feeling like a true comfortableness even though they don’t really know each other. It creates an atmosphere that tells us the comfort of strangers is the ultimate survival technique for them, even if one party wants a little more than the other, and yet they’re still content to temporarily live in the moment.
In Certain Women, their lives play out over a natural progression of time, as it does for all of us. This deeply honest look, alongside cold sweeping vistas, occasionally offers up hints of warmth filtering through like the sparks of a small flame and those early relationship hopes (we’ve all known) of the possibility of something bigger. Reichardt’s movie is a poetic and profoundly absorbing flicker of insight and even though just a moment for each character, it represents a point that moulds everything ahead of them and it’s fascinatingly achieved.
Certain Women opens in UK cinemas on 3 March 2017.