Night Moves, written and directed by Kelly Reichardt (Meek’s Cutoff), is a palpable thriller and character study that slowly builds suspense through continuous tension, paranoia, and the characters’ rising anxiety. Due to Reichardt’s ability to showcase her actors interacting with the beauty of nature, it comes as no surprise that she would focus her lens on environmental issues, specifically eco-terrorism, and the repercussions that come along with it.
Night Moves tells the story of three people, Josh (Jesse Eisenberg), Dena (Dakota Fanning), and Harmon (Peter Sarsgaard), who all come from different paths in life, but have the same issue with humanity’s encroachment on the environment and natural order. In order to publicize their message, the trio makes a radical decision. They plan to blow up a hydroelectric dam by filling a boat with ammonium nitrate fertilizer and exploding it beside the facility. Although they think they are committing this act of eco-terrorism for the great good, and regardless of all of the precautions they take to ensure no one gets hurt, the explosion has more consequences than they originally intended. A dam doesn’t just blow up; lives are utterly changed forever.
Unlike other “terrorism” centered films, Night Moves is not non-stop action. In fact, the dialogue and action feel incredibly natural thanks to the organic emotions the film conjures and Reichardt’s ability to show restraint from creating artificial situations that would take away from the underlying story. For any lesser filmmaker, a character attempting to acquire large amounts of fertilizer to create a bomb would be reminiscent of a Bourne film. However, Reichardt doesn’t fall into that Hollywood trap and instead uses this situation as another layer of tension and a way for the audience to learn more about the characters. There are no guns or sophisticated tradecraft.
Reichardt is known for having sparse dialogue in her movies, but unlike such gimmicky films as All Is Lost, you won’t notice. That is because you will tune in to the real “dialogue,” the conversations that occur without words, but with looks and actions. This is especially interesting since she hired one of the fastest “talkers” in the business, Jesse Eisenberg, to star. Not many people would hire Eisenberg to stay fairly quiet, but that is the beauty of the film; characters are not who they may seem at first glance. It was also exciting to see Dakota Fanning in another great role. As she has been busy in college, her involvement in film has been more sparse. But, of course, she stands out whenever she graces us with her presence, displaying vulnerability like no other.
Reichardt’s wonderful direction and her ability to make Night Moves different from the typical “bomb + terrorism= CGI mayhem” action film are what make this movie so great. If you’re looking for a suspenseful, engrossing film, Reichardt and co. have you covered.
My Review: B+