Kelly Reichardt's masterful low-budget drama (2008) tells a story a child could understand even as it indicts, with stinging anger, the economic cruelty of George Bush's America. Michelle Williams (Brokeback Mountain) is impressively restrained as Wendy, a young homeless woman who's living in her car with her beloved mutt, Lucy. After the car breaks down in an Oregon hick town, she makes the mistake of tying Lucy up outside a grocery store before going in to shoplift, and when she gets busted and taken to the local police station, the dog disappears. Reichardt (Old Joy) and cowriter Jonathan Raymond began working on the story after hearing conservative commentators bash the poor in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, and their movie is a stark reminder of how easily someone like Wendy can fall through our frayed safety net. The climax is a heartbreaker, and in its haunting finale the movie recalls no less than Mervyn LeRoy's Depression-era classic I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang.
By J.R. Jones