Directed By: Kelly Reichardt
Written By: Jonathan Raymond, Kelly Reichardt
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning, Peter Sarsgaard
Director Kelly Reichardt has made a career out of making unassuming films that are mediations on the human conditions. Based on the subject matter of her latest film Night Moves one might think she is making a departure from her established style. This thriller follows a group of eco-terrorists as they attempt blowup a hydroelectric dam. As one would except with a director like Reichardt this thriller has camouflaged tension that only shows itself at the right opportunities. Night Moves is a lingering piece of entertainment that makes you the ultimate observer into a relatively untold world.
In the film Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning, and Peter Sarsgaard play three ideological environmentalists who believe they have found a way to take a stand for Mother Nature. Although strongly rooted in hostile topics, Reichardt shows little interest in making a political statement. This is not a message piece or cleverly disguised propaganda. Here the interest lies in not what they are doing but in determining who these people really are. Reichardt does not get bogged down in the politics of what is occurring, or attempt to determine where the truth really lies in this situation.
Eisenberg brings the arrogant attitude we are used to with an additional flavor. There is an aura about him that makes it evident that he holds superiority above all others—seemingly always alone even when he is surrounded by others as he is content simply being in his own presence. He takes an ownership of the entire mission even though it may not be warranted. Eisenberg is ideal for this role and his performance is evidence of that.
Peter Sarsgaard equals Eisenburg as a washed out former Marine that adds uncertainty into the mix as he calls a number of audibles during their meticulous planning. One of those audibles leads to one of Dakota Fanning’s most standout scenes as she has to negotiate trying to purchase a suspicious amount of fertilizer. Reichardt uses this moment along with others to organically build tension in a scene that would typically be glossed over. It is a scene that does not necessarily have an edge of your seat excitement, instead what it does have are well established stakes that make you invested into the actions occurring on-screen.
What’s always intriguing about Reichardt’s style is how she establishes those stakes. As a director she allows her camera to say much more than any form of dialog. Her last film Meek’s Cutoff was one of the most cinematically gorgeous films in the last few years as she made wonderful use of the open landscape. With this taken place in the rustic Northwest she had an entirely different type of scenery to play with. She chooses to shoot a great deal from long distance and uses a number of obstructed shots to give the entire film a voyeuristic feel. It is fascinating to witness inventive ways she uses to tell this rather simple story.
Perhaps the best example is when they are finally attempting to execute their plan, and a simple pair of headlights off in the distance instantly changes the equation. Reichardt just stays with the moment, letting the expressions on the characters to tell you all that you need. Not relying on a bombastic score or quick edits to increase tension. Just allowing the moment to linger did all that was necessary.
Linger is actually a great word to use when describing Night Moves. It continuously lingers along taking its time. For some the patience that is required may be too much to bear, and they maybe left wondering where the ‘thrill’ in this supposed thriller is. For myself lingering also describes what takes place after the closing credits. How realization of how well it was crafted comes rushing in, like when you get a joke long after it was stated. Night Moves may not be your prototypical thriller, but it is further proof that Kelly Reichardt is a director who goes far too unnoticed.