The setup is fairly straightforward even if the purpose is elusive. The latest film from directing team Lisa Robinson and Annie J. Howell (2011’s Small, Beautifully Moving Parts) concerns Claire (Betsy Brandt from “Breaking Bad”), a woman whose husband Paul (Chris Beetem) goes for a solo camping/hiking trip (as he frequently does) and never comes home. Claire and the police search the mountains where he vanished for weeks before finally giving up, but as Claire begins to dig into her husband’s affairs, she discovers that he had a secret life that she knew nothing about.
The most fascinating thing about Claire in Motion isn’t that Paul’s other life doesn’t involve crime or a torrid affair. It involved an art project that her scientist/professor husband was working on with a somewhat conniving graduate student named Allison (Anna Margaret Hollyman), who always seems to be keeping secrets about Paul from Claire, even if she doesn’t have any. The disappearance and subsequent discoveries send Claire into something of an existential tailspin, not only questioning the man she married but her own life and future with their young son Connor (Zev Haworth).
Brandt’s fractured performance is what drives the film forward and opens up the emotional complexities of her situation. It doesn’t help that Allison believes Paul ran away from his life, a theory that radically conflicts with Claire’s belief that he died in an accident on what was meant to be an overnight trip. Claire In Motion would have been intriguing if it had just been about a woman’s life falling apart as a result of not knowing her husband’s fate. But when you compound her grief with layers of anger, confusion and doubt, it makes for devastating drama. Lest you think this film is about whether the husband returns or not, it is not. Claire In Motion is about a series of events that sends a woman spiraling; the tension comes from seeing where, or if, she lands. This is a quiet, messy, moving work that takes a bold approach to what could have been a run-of-the-mill story and makes it original.