Kelly Reichardt’s Night Moves is the plottiest movie Kelly Reichardt has ever made. It’s still a quiet, slow burn, of course; the movie operates under enough of a hush that the usually chatty Jesse Eisenberg says only a few words during its opening minutes. But it could also be called a procedural. Eisenberg and Dakota Fanning play environmental activists in the Portland area, planning to blow up a dam to make a statement about, I guess, how hydro-electricity is wasteful, too. (The movie catches only bits of environmentalist chatter, including a Q&A at a screening of a DIY activist movie that gave me flashbacks to Reichardt’s partially concealed and completely earned disdain during a Wendy and Lucy Q&A years ago.) Eisenberg enlists the help of his sketchy buddy Peter Sarsgaard, and the movie draws tension from the almost comically small steps of their three-person operation: buy a boat. Drive out to Sarsgaard’s woodsy trailer. Get some fertilizer. Stay calm.
Reichardt lends this action some autumnal, Pacific Northwest tones similar to those in Wendy and Lucy; even at its most ominous, there’s some beauty in Night Moves (which screens at Tribeca this afternoon and Sunday night). There’s a beautiful shot of Eisenberg at a dump, heaving suspicious waste from his truck, with mountains in the background: a juxtaposition of natural beauty and post-urban decay worthy of David Gordon Green. She also milks some suspense by just keeping her camera in a fixed position, like a long shot of the boat as it approaches the target dam. After the taut minimalist thrills of the first hour or so, Night Moves veers into grim paranoia—effectively wrought but a little monotonous. Eisenberg ditches his lil’ Woody Allen persona with chilling effectiveness, though, and Sarsgaard uses his past onscreen creeps to keep you wondering about whether anyone should trust his ex-military ex-con pseudo-revolutionary. The movie wavers, fascinatingly, between chronicling activism and Portland noir.