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Methodical 'Night Moves' is a Slow Burn

Kelly Reichardt's latest is mesmerizing, riveting filmmaking.


Long story short: Night Moves is a professional suspense film that favors silence over mind-numbing techno music to heighten tension. 

Night Moves will remind you of: The East, Shotgun Stories, Capote, If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front

Review: In lesser hands, with lesser actors Night Moves probably wouldn't work. With more money and more famous actors it probably wouldn't work either. The story is too sophisticated to be taken lightly and too universal to be toyed with carelessly. I can see Michael Bay directing this film and the cameras multiply by 20 and the volume gets turned way up. All of a sudden, nobody gives a shit. 

Thankfully, Night Moves has co-writer/director Kelly Reichardt to lead it. She's quietly one of the best directors in the land and is building an impressive resume of films that puts her alongside the Bennett Millers and Lynne Ramsays of the world. She hones her expert suspense technique in Night Moves, the story of three environmental activists who blow up a dam in self-righteous indignation only to see the world fall apart in the aftermath. It's expertly-crafted with a rhythm and forward movement that will edge you off the couch. Reichardt makes that happen, but she's not the only one.

Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning, and Peter Sarsgaard play the three characters at the center of Night Moves. Eisenberg is Josh, all business, he's the default leader. He and Dena (Fanning) meet at the dam itself as the movie begins. The tone is somber, focused, as if they have no questions about what they're doing. They buy a boat, Night Moves, and bring it to meet Harmon (Sarsgaard) who inspects it, gives it his stamp of approval and the three put the next stages of the plan in motion. 

What unfolds is essentially a terrorist procedural as the the three partners head out to buy ammonium nitrate fertilizer (no small task), mix it and pack it in small bags to fill the boat. Reichardt moves swiftly, never lingering in a scene for longer than she has to. And by the end of the film's first act, we're at the dam with the boat and this thing is going down.

From the beginning, Night Moves is compelling, but the dam scene elevates things to another level. In the darkness, the three move silently in the water like Navy SEALs. There're no hesitations or contrived problems. The act of placing a loaded boat next to a hydroelectric dam is drama enough and Reichardt recognizes that, letting the scene play out as realistically as possible. Even before the dam scene, as Josh and Harmon unload the boat amongst a throng of campers, you worry for them. They're doing the unthinkable, but you can't help wanting to watch things play out. 

I won't mention any more of the plot except to say things don't exactly go as planned and all three activists go their separate ways. Reichardt then spends time allowing us to know these people. Their mindsets leading up to the bombing are almost soldier-like so it's like peeling off a layer when we see them return to their normal lives. Of the cast, Eisenberg gives the most nuanced, intense performance. We can see his eyes shift as he transitions from calculating leader to a man on the edge of his own world. The characters make you invest in Night Moves but it's Reichardt's steady hand that puts them in motion. By beginning the film in medias res, like a spy novel, we're privy to the cause, the action, and the aftermath without ever wasting time. This is a deliberate, assured movie.

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