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Night Moves

Night Moves is a slow-burning suspense thriller about a trio of eco-terrorists conspiring to blow up a dam, directed by Kelly Reichardt with the concision and elegance of a chess master.

Reichardt makes films that, whatever their subject matter, feel airy and open. She’s a filmmaker who listens and looks patiently, whether she’s following two semi-estranged male friends on a camping trip (Old Joy), or chronicling the struggles of a young homeless woman and her dog (Wendy and Lucy).

Night Moves ventures further into genre territory than anything she’s done before. There’s a crime to be plotted, illegal material to be obtained, policemen to avoid. But the film retains Reichardt’s characteristic minimalist style and interest in psychological nuance, aided by restrained but electric performances from Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning, and Peter Sarsgaard.

As the film begins, Josh (Eisenberg) and Dena (Fanning) stand together on the viewing deck of a colossal hydroelectric dam in Oregon. They could be young lovers on a road trip—but as becomes clear even from a few sparse lines of dialogue, they’re nothing of the sort. They’re scoping out the dam in the last stages of a plan to detonate it, using a pleasure boat packed with nitrogen-enriched fertilizer as a floating bomb. Dour uber-greenie Josh, the mastermind of the group, has his doubts about the reliability of Dena, an idealistic college dropout from a rich family who’s helping pick up the tab for the operation. And both of them, understandably, have their doubts about Harmon (Sarsgaard), a shady ex-Marine who styles himself an explosives expert.

Night Moves’ second half deals with the psychological effect of the operation on its rapidly unraveling perpetrators. The two halves are joined by a bravura suspense sequence, fully 20 minutes long and virtually dialogue-free, in which we witness the preparation and placement of the boat-turned-bomb. The movie is never less than mesmerizing to watch. The lead performances converge into a true ensemble—we really believe these three damaged, dissimilar people have lived through something together.

Reichardt remains fascinatingly distanced as to the ultimate meaning and value of her protagonists’ actions; for a film about ecological radicalism, Night Moves is surprisingly devoid of either moralizing or agitprop. But its ending—which is ambiguous, unexpected, and frightening-is the kind of ending you could argue about all night. - Dana Stevens, Slate

 

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