IMDB Score – 6.6
Rotten Tomato Score – 83%
Directed By – Kelly Reichardt
Starring – Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning, Peter Sarsgaard, Alia Shawkat, Logan Miller, and Kai Lennox
Three radical environmentalists look to execute the protest of their lives: the explosion of a hydroelectric dam.
Being a fan of Kelly Reichardt is hard. While I loved both “Wendy and Lucy” and “Meeks Cutoff”, I realize that they are both acquired tastes and not for everybody. The only reason this matters is that I want to see directors I like tackle bigger projects but in the case for Reichardt, she might not be given that opportunity. Her films are slow burns with usually ambiguous endings. That is like box office kryptonite in a country where explosions and animated musicals reign supreme. I never expected Night Moves to make a lot of money, nut I secretly wish I lived in a culture that applauds unique films that take time to set a mood and develop characters rather than spoon feed me action and back story. Night Moves ended up not being something I enjoyed as much as her previous films, but I applaud Reichardt for sticking to what she does best and digging out a unique niche for herself. Hopefully somebody in Hollywood will notice soon and give her some money to do something really special.
Her newest film, Night Movies, is set in the Northwest, Oregon I believe, where we follow a small group of environmentalists who are planning to make a radical change. I think some films benefit from not having that much of a backstory. This lets the viewer figure out things for themselves which I find important in film. We don’t really know much about these characters. We know they are passionate about the environment early on as we see Dena and Josh attending a screening of a pro environment film focused on the preservation of trees and rivers. Dena, played by a no longer little girl Dakota Fanning, shows her passion in the subject by speaking out during the question portion of the film screening. Later on Josh and Dena are driving down a baron road and we see them pass a deer that had been hit by a car. Josh pulls the truck over, examines the deer, realizes it is pregnant, and moves the deer off to the side to rest. It showed the compassion Josh had for living things and is a key scene to remember as the film progresses. Eventually they meet up with a friend played by Peter Peter Sarsgaard where they plan to blow up a dam and restore some balance to nature.
The story is pretty cut and dry but the thing that makes Reichardt’s films unique is how much she tries to in ordinary and frankly boring people a bit of mystery through atmosphere and delicately created photography. The film, which is mostly set at night, is shot beautifully through the use of long static shots with minimal score or music. The camera work on the night of the dam job is particularly impressive. The whole sequence had a distinct feel of realism to go along with the tension of the job. This was the highlight of the film for me. The movie trailer captioned that this was an “almost work of Hitchcock” and while I disagree with that statement I could really feel my heart racing during and after the Dam sequence. If you’re a fan of Hitchcock you know that feeling of tension when watching Grace Kelly snooping through Jimmy Stewarts neighbors house in “Rear Window” and seeing the neighbor come home and Stewart can’t warn her. I felt that kind of tension during that sequence in Night Moves. That’s a big plus for me.
The negatives didn’t ruin the film, but also didn’t help raise the film to a higher standard. I had trouble with the pacing at places as even I have my limits as far as slow burns go. I also needed a little more motivation and reasoning why these young people would risk their lives for their cause. I know why they were doing it but would have liked to know the reason each one of them personally had for jumping into the crime. The ending was also problematic for me as I honestly have no idea what it meant. I have theories, which is a good thing, but even my theories add up to anticlimactic results. It just kind of ended. You can stitch as much pseudo symbolism you want to a bad ending but for me it won’t work, and neither did it for Reichardt.
The acting in the film was subtle. Eisenberg really stood out to me but his character carried the most emotion with him so it was an easy choice for a standout performance. Eisenberg did a great job though as he is a gifted actor. Fanning, who reminded me I haven’t seen her in a film since she was like 12, carried her weight well but just seemed subdued to what she is usually accustomed to handling. Sarsgaard, who I find to be a completely underrated actor (see his work in The Killing) also does a fine job in a supporting role.
Overall the film was a little forgettable but had moments of brilliance and I really hope Kelly Reichardt continues working on her craft because there is immense potential with her. The film could have been a little more active due to the subject matter but events of pure tension and realistic suspense kept it from being boring to me.
Suggested Viewing – The East, Winters Bone, Martha Marcy May Marlene