People don’t go to the movies to get depressed, at least to anything that isn’t an art house. Thus a film like Night Moves will probably never find a way into the mainstream consciousness. It’s probably why an established, Oscar nominated actor like Jesse Eisenberg would take it. After years of playing stoner/slacker roles en route to a career of substance, and the running gag of being a second rate Michael Cera potentially typecasting him in that route, he’s taken a series of interesting parts that could potentially redefine the direction of his career.
With Lex Luthor in his sights, as Eisenberg was a controversial pick in the Justice League launch that has become the sequel to Man of Steel, Eisenberg’s in a very interesting spot career wise. Luthor could potentially be a career maker for him, elevating him into an A-list spot. The thing is that Eisenberg has been such a stalwart on the indie scene that his choice as Luthor was a curious one. It’s the sort of film an actor picks for salary so he can do a film like Night Moves for the art of it, which resembles most of the films in his library.
The film follows three environmentalists about to commit a terrorist act on US soil. Josh (Eisenberg) is the leader of a small group looking to take down a hydroelectric dam for the environment. He’s joined by Harmon (Peter Sarsgaard), who learned the trade craft of using explosive devices in the military. Harmon never lost a love for destruction and mayhem, it seems, and he’s there to plan the devastation they want to cause to save a waterway. Dena (Dakota Fanning) rounds out their little band, a socialite from high society who did what Timothy Leary once advised. She’s tuned in and dropped out of polite society, delving deeper into radical politics.
Night Moves follows the social dynamics of the group as they plan out and execute their mission. It’s an interesting choice of topic for Kelly Reichardt, and one of the reasons why she’s an indie stalwart and hasn’t been offered any studio fare. She’s able to take on fare that a major studio wouldn’t even think about, like a film from the perspective of an eco-terrorist and what the terror act does to them, and make it into something compelling. Meek’s Cutoff was a brilliant if little seen piece four years ago and Night Moves is another one that follows suit.
The film follows the consequences for all involved as we get three perspectives on the terror act they pulled off. Josh is seemingly ok with it, almost bemused with it to a certain degree. He’s a true believer, one who has no problem with committing violent acts in the name of the cause. The consequences of their collective action leaves him wanting to not be caught but with no feeling of guilt. Dena, on the other hand, seemingly is playing eco-terrorist and has a problem with the guilt of the consequences of their action. Harmon seems to feel a sense of guilt about it all but he’d prefer someone else handle it all. He knows how to disappear.
What Reichardt does well is build up to the inevitable that happens when someone promises “no one will get hurt” when promising to commit a heinous act. The key is in the reaction and the fallout; it’s an interesting dynamic that we’ve seen before but not like this. Usually it’s with a murder, ala Cassandra’s Deam, but this time it’s with an act of terror. We have three people who went in with no qualms and came out with various emotions.
It’s an interesting way of tackling the situation as Reichardt develops them as believers in a cause looking to do something of note. Reichardt is interested in the consequences of their actions after a build up to it of absolute certainty in their actions. These are people who think they’re doing something for the greater good … but understand that what they’re doing is inherently bad. It’s an interesting dynamic as their action isn’t presented as something they should do; they’re the extremist fringe of a movement who are there for different reasons.
This is a good film; not great but good. The problem is that at 113 minutes the film moves too briskly for its subject material. Reichardt could’ve given us another 30-45 minutes of exploring this dynamic as the film’s final act is quicker than it could’ve been. It ends rapidly when it could’ve been drawn out, given a trio of talented actors more time.
The film’s trailer is the only extra included.
New Video Group presents Night Moves. Directed by Kelly Reichardt. Written by Kelly Reichardt and Jonathan Raymond. Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning, Peter Sarsgaard. Run Time 113 minutes. Rating: R. Released: September 2, 2014.
Tags: Dakota Fanning, Jesse Eisenberg, Night Moves, Peter Sarsgaard