Sunday, June 1, 2014

Review: Night Moves

Image courtesy of Cinedigm.
Kelly Reichardt's films take a stripped down approach, following characters who only slowly - or, in the case of her latest, "Night Moves," hardly at all - reveal themselves to others. Her pictures only make use of dialogue when completely necessary and are typically set in Oregon: 2006's "Old Joy" chronicled the reunion of two old pals in the Cascade mountains, 2008's "Wendy and Lucy" followed the story of a young woman who lost her dog and 2010's "Meek's Cutoff" was a western set along the Oregon Trail.

"Night Moves" is, in many ways, her most barebones film to date - spare in its storytelling, visuals and performances. Three radical environmentalists (Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning and Peter Sarsgaard) have hatched out a plan to bomb a hydroelectric dam for reasons mostly unknown. We know very little about their characters, other than than Eisenberg works at organic farm, Fanning is employed by some sort of New Age-type of spa and Sarsgaard is secluded somewhere in the Pacific Northwest.

Eisenberg's character is quiet, reserved and, increasingly, paranoid, while Fanning attempts to hide her concerns behind a facade of jokiness and Sarsgaard is all business, but in a pleasant enough way. We know little of these characters' backgrounds or motivations.

One of the most fascinating - and, honestly, most daring - elements of the picture is suspenseful the way that Reichardt films these actions, setting up the viewer to root for these characters. In other words, despite knowing that their actions could be dangerous to others, we feel tense as they go about the business of hatching their plan, making us worried that they may be caught.

I won't go into plot details, but suffice it to say the bombing of the dam does not go off without a hitch, leaving all three characters in a state of fear, guilt and increasing distrust of one another. And as they say, one thing leads to another - but, in this case, with grave consequences.

With this role, Eisenberg is seemingly aiming to brush off the nice guy persona of some of his previous films - although, come to think of it, his Mark Zuckerberg wasn't exactly the most lovable guy on his resume. His character says little, but Eisenberg still gives a pretty impressive performance as Josh, who is an interesting choice for a protagonist, considering the direction in which "Night Moves" eventually goes.

As usual, Reichardt does a good job of creating a sense of place here, just as she did with the economically scaled back Oregon town in "Wendy and Lucy" and the wagon trail in "Meek's Cutoff" but, while although completely different in tone, her latest is most similar stylistically to "Old Joy," which set up the culture clash between two old friends - one a working stiff and the other a semi-burnout hippie type.

Yet I felt the same way toward "Night Moves" that I did toward Reichardt's previous films - I admired it and appreciated the talent behind the camera, without quite being completely engrossed in it. I've liked most of her work - with "Wendy and Lucy" and "Meek's Cutoff" being, in my opinion, her best works - but have yet to love one of her pictures. Regardless, "Night Moves" has much to appreciate and I'd recommend it to those who favor moody thrillers - as well as ones that allow you to come to your own conclusions.

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