Directed by Kelly Reichardt
The fifth feature from leading “neo-neo-realist” Reichardt concerns an act of ecoterror and its fallout, exploring a violent expression of hard-line idealism as it’s brought into a world in which nothing ever seems to go according to plan. The director, who has over her last three films (Old Joy, Wendy and Lucy, and Meek’s Cutoff) honed a unique tacking-off-course narrative drift, has not only made a heavy suspense film, but one that’s also taut as a wire. Night Moves focuses on three Oregon environmentalists—a tight-lipped CSA farmer (Jesse Eisenberg), a rich-kid college dropout (Dakota Fanning), and a technical-logistics man (Peter Sarsgaard)—as they prepare to blow up a hydroelectric dam with a boatload of fertilizer.
As ever, Reichardt handles her leads expertly, ushering them fluidly through a scenario that requires a great deal of physical process and loaded, coded speech. As a cocksure ex-Marine, Sarsgaard gives a particularly vivid performance, his entire demeanor well summed up by his aggressively casual posture. Eisenberg (sweating it out under the same blue hoodie for the whole movie) and Fanning (playing a character who at the outset might be an even cooler customer than Sarsgaard’s) come to the fore in the conscience-plagued aftermath of their action at the dam, at which point nerves fray and paranoia mounts.
The dynamics of this small group are so well-drawn, the dialogue revealing the atmosphere of mutual suspicion in countless little insinuations (Reichardt cowrote the script with longtime collaborator Jon Raymond), that by comparison many of this film’s man-in-landscape compositions feel thuddingly unsubtle. We see the boat finally approach the water from the point-of-view of a couple in their RV, oblivious to what’s going on outside as they watch The Price Is Right from their plush pilot seats. As if to double-underscore the indifference of a populace that kills “all the salmon” in order to run their “fucking iPods” (in the weirdly anachronistic words of Josh), later on we get a pointed glimpse of jet skis buzzing along the shoreline, as well as kids playing with toy guns in a riverside field of tree stumps. These shots do at least serve a function in the telling of the tale: Reichardt seems to sympathize with her protagonists’ political stance before she begins to unwind the consequences of their methods. If this is not her most distinctive work to date, it’s the one that asks the most pressing moral questions—and the one in which the stakes feel highest.
Opens May 30