Night Moves (2013)
Not to be confused with Arthur Penn’s under-appreciated mystery film starring Gene Hackman, Night Moves is the latest film from American minimalist Kelly Reichardt. It follows the current wave of films about radical environmentalists from the heart of the American indie. A trend of films that has yet to have its definitive article, perhaps Night Moves is the film that validates this ecological awareness. Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning and Peter Sarsgaard, Night Moves sees three radical environmentalists rig a hydroelectric dam to explode and the fallout that ensues.
Minimalism is both a key to the director’s oeuvre and the biggest barrier to enjoyment. Next to nothing happens for the first 40 minutes despite this run being dedicated to the planning phase of the environmentalists plot. The most dramatic interaction occurs when Dakota Fanning tries to get a particular type of fertilizer needed to make their home-brew explosives – a scene that sees Fanning attempting to convince the manager of a garden center that she is the daughter of a local farmer. That is the most dramatically nourishing scene, beyond that it’s the typical slow burn Americana where admittedly striking cinematography takes centre stage and actors stare into the middle distance or exchange utterly redundant dialogue. Truth be told, it’s more than a little lifeless – auteur or no, anti-thriller or no. Thankfully the film finds its footing during the second half.
The plan to take action against a massive corporation and their network of dams takes place off-screen – keeping in key with the anti-thriller intentions – and while the explosion was successful there is notable collateral damage. The consequences of that collateral is where Night Moves is at its most captivating, with the paranoia of being found out and the distrust of the fellow conspirators informing a tonal 180. It’s also here where Eisenberg earns his crust as the figurehead for the mess the trio find themselves in. As the film starts he is a quietly confident young man who is using his connections and passion for the natural world to wreak vengeance on those who cannot stand up for themselves, as the film reaches its emotional apex he has lost his place in the world and his sense of self. It’s a subtle but wholly satisfying character arc from an actor who is improving with each film he completes.
The cinematography eloquently communicates why these dedicated few would be moved to such ferocious action and the performances are subtle and nuanced in communicating this. Once again it’s the hook on which the film hangs itself is the hook by which the film is held back. While the emotional arc is fascinating and there is some wondrously staged scenes in the latter half, it never really endears itself to those who aren’t subscribers to the ethos of slow cinema and Kelly Reichardt’s place within. Night Moves has an ‘us and them’ philosophy in all its creative decisions, with both glowing achievements and haughty pretensions side by side, Night Moves is of little significance – this wave of ecological counter culture films still lack that definitive article, that perfect encapsulation of the green spirit.
NIGHT MOVES IS NOW PLAYING IN SELECTED UK CINEMAS