Night Moves Film Review
Those that are aware of Kelly Reichardt’s work should be familiar with low-key, character driven psychological thrillers. Since her directorial debut, 1994’s River of Grass, she has given us a stream of pensive films that study self-righteous characters and their relationship with awry left-wing demons. In this regard, Night Moves is no exception.
The film revolves around normcore eco-warrior Oregonites Josh (Jesse Eisenberg), Dena (Dakota Fanning) and fundamental ideologist Harmon (Peter Sarsgaard) in a plot to blow up the local hydroelectric dam. What is interesting to see is how fearlessness can swiftly turn into contrition, as Reichardt navigates the viewer towards an introspective journey by looking at how actions ultimately meet dangerous consequences.
Where Reichardt succeeds in not being overtly patronising with the audience, it does seem that her narrative pacing suffers somewhat. However, with cautious intonation nostalgic to Alfred Hitchcock, a suspenseful climax is delivered prematurely and thus the story arc plateaus early on. From that point on, sanctimonious idealism quickly sinks into dark paranoia; a pilgrimage through the stages of acceptance with increasingly conflicting psychological effects on Josh and Dena.
Eisenberg was a perfect casting choice, giving a skillfully chilling depiction of a boy suffering to contain invasive pressures of fallacious dogma and hapless guilt; his conspiracy to explode the dam eventually fuelling the implosion within himself. Ultimately, while Dena and Harmon are given less focus in the final arc, their characters are nonetheless imperative on understanding how one could confront extreme activism.
Cinematographer Christopher Blauvelt successfully gives us beautiful shots of Oregon’s autumn foliage and glistening lakes, recognising an empathy between the environment and fundamentalism. However, one of the most powerful shots is where Eisenberg finally confronts the latter, staring at his own hands and terrorised by the fact that the crusade towards penance is nowhere near.
Fundamentally, for a film with an explosion this is no blockbuster. As with a lot of arthouse magic, the film enjoyed limited theatrical release and ultimately requires an audience that is prepared to think deeply about ethical environmentalism. Although competently crafted, I think the ideology that ‘actions have consequences’ has been overused, but if you’re down for moral ambiguity on a Friday night, you could do worse than giving this a go.