DIRECTOR: Kelly Reichardtnight_moves_xlg

CAST: Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning, Peter Sarsgaard, Alia Shawkat, Clara Mamet, James LeGros, Katherine Waterston, Nate Mooney, Logan Miller, Matt Malloy

RUNNING TIME: 112 mins

CERTIFICATE: 15 TBC

BASICALLY…: Three environmental activists (Eisenberg, Fanning and Sarsgaard) come together to blow up a conservational dam, with unexpectedly intense results…

 

NOW FOR THE REVIEW…

This review is of the cut shown at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2013 – a UK release date has not been scheduled as of 18/10/13.

Although not a household name within the industry despite a good handful of directorial credits to her name, Kelly Reichardt is slowly but surely making her way into the spotlight with Night Moves, arguably her most accessible film to date.

That’s down to its regarded and recognisable trio of lead actors, all of whom do some of their best work in a long time. From the get-go, and especially for the second half of the movie, it is Jesse Eisenberg who dominates as a quiet presence in the background yet somehow proves as effective as the next man. It is during this second half that he truly shines on his own, his character making tough emotional decisions that haunt him deeply by film’s end. Eisenberg comes through wonderfully, giving him yet another lost soul to breathe some sense of life into.

Peter Sarsgaard is actually on-screen not that much, disappearing by the second act wherein he acts as a voiceover on the phone only. However, he makes up for it with a solid performance that’s entertaining in its own way. Sarsgaard is quickly gaining credibility as an underrated character actor, and this is definitely going to be a film that helps put him more so on the map after a standout turn in Blue Jasmine.

Dakota Fanning, meanwhile, has been a Film Feeder favourite for a while and we’re happy to report that this is definitely one of her finest pieces of work for a long time. Now Is Good excluded, her film roles of late have been neither showy nor particularly worthy of her many talents. With Reichardt, she seems to have finally found a director who can bring out the best of her abilities as well as a character she can easily portray while adding some necessities of her very own. Of the three activists who plot to blow up the dam, Fanning’s Dena is the one with the most emotional response to the aftermath especially when news emerges of a nearby camper going missing during the explosion. She develops a habit of scratching her skin to cope with the guilt, and one of the next times we see her is when she is covered from head to toe in bruised scratch marks. It is credit to the make-up artists who planted said marks over her body, but it’s Fanning’s blank emotions we’re paying more attention to. Here’s a person overwrought with guilt to the point where nothing else matters anymore, which Fanning in a career-best performance conveys beautifully with realism and the right amount of heartbreak.

Despite the presence of three fine actors, Night Moves ultimately belongs to Reichardt. With each shot, she conveys her understanding for the medium of film and the importance of the age-old rule of “show, don’t tell.” Dialogue does not feature as strongly, in fact there are many instances where scenes go by without even a breath of dialogue. Reichardt just lets the imagery suck you in to the drama, which works because everything is so striking in how beautiful it all is. As the trio make their way to the dam in a boat, they pass by a collection of tree trunks stripped bare yet still standing tall and proud within the water. Such a scene demonstrates Reichardt’s visual lyricism, also put to good use in previous works like Meek’s Cutoff and Wendy and Lucy. She understands that everything we see is a necessity to the overall film, no matter how vague it may be. The environment itself is just as much a character as the three people trying to protect it, and when one sees how wondrous it can look on its own you get why they want to protect it so badly.

Thankfully, Reichardt does not forget to add substance to the script as well. Debuting at the London Film Festival as the “Debate Gala”, Night Moves is an appropriate choice by the organisers as it does raise questions that come with committing such a big task. After the activists succeed in their mission, the news is not greeted as warmly as they would have liked. As the co-workers on Eisenberg’s produce farm discuss the newsworthy topic, one comments that blowing up only one dam is not as effective as blowing up more at the same time, likening the culprit’s acts to “theatre” rather than a tough anti-corporation statement. With that said, the questions raised are straightforward: if someone does anything as radical, will it even be noticed by their peers? How many landmarks, and potential casualities, will it take to get your message across? What the hell is Mae from Arrested Development doing working on a produce farm? Okay, maybe not that last one, but you get the idea.

However, there are parts of the screenplay which do feel slightly underdeveloped and ambiguous, which might have been the point but a small amount of information would have sufficed. The crux of the film focuses on the characters as they plot to blow up the dam, while the second half concentrates on the consequences for everyone. Outside of the occasional snide comment toward big corporations – Eisenberg’s Josh complains how the dam “kills salmon just so you can run your fucking iPod every second of your life” – we know very little about their motivations to blow it up other than maybe they’re just a bunch of environmental nutballs. Clearly this isn’t the case as it is hinted that there is much more to these characters than the simple accusation of hugging trees a little too tightly, but we don’t exactly get it elsewhere.

Other interesting moments throughout the film are introduced, but not looked into after their introduction. One scene, we see Josh come across Sarsgaard’s woodland-based trailer where he – as do we – clearly hears the pleasurable moans of a young woman and an older man. If is to imply that Dena and Sarsgaard’s Harmon are engaging in a sexual relationship, it does not become any clearer in later scenes. Both characters don’t even seem to have a vibrant chemistry with each other, so it’s an interesting plot thread that sadly goes nowhere. The film also ends on an ambiguous note, leaving us not entirely clear about where it’s going to go. Again, this may have been the intentions of the filmmakers but it doesn’t leave us in a position where we are more the wiser.

Thankfully the rest of Night Moves leaves a big enough impact on you that its faults can be no more than glanced over. Kelly Reichardt has made a film that not only haunts with some tantalising questions but sparks an interesting debate about how one justifies and contains radicalism to the point where it consumes your well-being.

SO, TO SUM UP…

Night Moves is a film masked with visual brilliance, interesting debate and three fine performances from Jesse Eisenberg, Peter Sarsgaard, and Dakota Fanning in a career-best role. The script may not always work, but Kelly Reichardt poetic visual language more than makes up for its faults. Hopefully this will secure a UK release sooner rather than later, because lovers of independent cinema will just eat it up.