The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

Film Reviews

Dam And Blast: Night Moves Reviewed
Gary Green , September 6th, 2014 04:07

Gary Green goes enviro-mental over director Kelly Reichardt's latest

Kelly Reichardt first came to people's attentions a few years ago, after the director gave the Western an unexpected jolt with 2010’s Meek’s Cutoff. Not that she was new to the game, having released small-time indie faves Old Joy and Wendy And Lucy, but it was the start of real consideration for a formidable talent. Night Moves, starring her most high-profile cast yet with the likes of Jesse Eisenberg and Dakota Fanning, looks set to expose her name to an even larger audience - and it’s a very happy circumstance, indeed, that it won't just be the names attached that’ll help achieve this. Night Moves is a tense, unnerving and uncompromising film.

Josh (Jesse Eisenberg) works at an environmentally conscious farm, where he grows organic produce. He and his cohort - it’s difficult to define them as ‘friends’ - Dena, played by Dakota Fanning, who spends her days jobbing away in a New Age-leaning spa, begin to plot an act that will change the world in at least some small way: the blowing up of a hydroelectric dam. They team up with the shady Harmon - yet another stellar turn from Peter Sarsgaard - who’ll provide them with supplies and the know-how, and will come to assist in the mission itself. We don’t immediately know what the trio are plotting - the screenplay, written by Reichardt and Jonathan Raymond, who’s worked exclusively with the director on every feature since Old Joy, never bothers with even the barest of expository sequences, which leaves us to focus on the relationships between these unlikely comrades. They may not particularly like each other - there’s barely a moment of bonding between them - but they are linked, by what they believe to be a great purpose. Reichdart’s and Raymond’s priorities are made overt, in that the characters never let pettiness get in the way of their goal, or allow personal desire to consume them. Far more powerful forces are at work in Reichdart’s moody universe, that go beyond the characters themselves - and they know it. When the plot begins to deliver on its promise, and the sabotaging of the dam becomes more real with every step, their decisions feel heavier.

While Josh is the central character, Night Moves is very much an ensemble piece. Fanning represents the more human, vulnerable side to proceedings, especially after the consequences of their actions came back to bite them. While Sarsgaard is magnificent at the other end of the emotional spectrum. Chilling in his detachment to proceedings, even though he knows that their plan will affect - and is designed to affect - many lives. Sarsgaard somehow makes Harmon a double negative; you can’t trust him, but there’s no one else to trust. Eisenberg, in a performance that relies heavily on body language, makes Josh’s presence feel at times stoic, and at others, downright scary.

Night Moves perhaps excels most in its construction of atmosphere. Reichdart knows how to build tension, not from camerawork, editing, or music (even though the atmospheric score is one of the year’s best), but by tugging on what we know about the characters and the world she’s created for them. Any consequent set pieces are astonishingly tense, and with zero pretense. To call Night Moves a thriller would be to ignore its glacial pacing; to call it a straightforward drama, on the other hand, would be to downplay that it's concerns are not with what the characters are doing, but what they’ve already done. Grappling with its difficult, heavy themes doesn't supply you with any easy answers. But Night Moves is unique, as it’s never clear what the questions are in the first place.

Night Moves is in cinemas now