U.S.A. • 2006 • COLOUR • 76 MIN

However much Hollywood strains for the epic, US indie cinema at its best specialises in intimacy. Kelly Reichardt’s vignette of tested friendship superficially resembles ‘Sideways’, yet chooses to eschew its artfully-turned wisecracks and gently cushioned uplift—instead it’s all about creating atmosphere, a context for eloquent silence. The central characters are instantly recognisable, with Daniel London as the former small-town hipster reluctantly settling down into the adult responsibilities of marriage, mortgage and fatherhood, in stark contrast to his old buddy Will Oldham (the alternative country artist also known as Bonnie Prince Billy), who’s still travelling, never far from a spliff, and full of fanciful talk of future plans we know will never happen. The latter suggests a one-night trip to a remote spring in Oregon’s Cascade Mountains, some time out together for a catch-up after years apart. But do they still have anything to say to one another?

Founded on acute observation of characters on a seemingly inevitable drift apart—one conversation about a defunct record shop is almost heartbreaking in its accuracy—the the film’s 76 minutes still allows a keen eye for their journey from urban hinterland to unspoiled nature and back again. The stillness and anomie are redolent of early Wim Wenders films, yet the quintessential atmosphere of downhome Americana prevails as the film explores the sadness beneath these men’s emotional reticence. The result is a perceptive, beautifully shaded piece of celluloid portraiture, perfectly complemented by its high and lonesome Yo La Tengo soundtrack. A slow-burner, definitely.—Trevor Johnston.

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