For a film about such an emotionally charged subject — environmental activism and eco-terrorism — Night Moves is an unexpectedly cool customer.
That isn’t necessarily a bad thing in the hands of Indy filmmaker Kelly Reichardt, who treats the subject with such careful deliberation and a sense of ambivalence, you’re never quite sure where she stands.
The story opens with scruffy Josh (Jesse Eisenberger) and glammed-down gal pal Dena (Dakota Fanning) doing a recon of sorts of a dam on the Santiam River, located in Oregon’s Lake of the Woods district.
“No fish ladders,”
comments Dena, referring to the lack of passageways for spawning salmon,
to her soon-to-be confederate in crime, Josh, who from the outset
demonstrates a penchant for taciturnity.
Soon a documentary
filmmaker at a small community meeting is telling the rural folk it’s
time to “rise up” against multinational corporations whose greed is
destroying the planet.
“The disaster is
happening now,” says Jackie (Clara Mamet), urging the motley crowd to
undertake their own “small plans” in their fight to preserve the
It soon becomes
obvious that that’s what Josh, Dena and an ex-Marine named Harmon are
doing, hatching a scheme to blow up a dam using the same sort of
fertilizer bomb that was so effective in another act of domestic
terrorism, the destruction of a federal building in Oklahoma City in
The idea is to buy a
boat (named Night Moves, as per the title) and “stuff the turkey,” as
Harmon puts it. The plan is stealthily conceived and put into action,
involving buying a boat from someone a few states away, using cash
unwittingly provided by Dena’s wealthy and indulgent father.
But there’s an odd
lack of passion demonstrated by the principals, particularly between
Josh and Dena who are, rather surprisingly, not even lovers. Only Harmon
(Peter Sarsgaard) shows a sense of conviction and a glimmer of heady relish for the adventure ahead.
The film is rather
neatly divided into two parts, pre- and post-boom, when the unintended
consequences of their actions — the death of a camper downstream —
results in the rapid unravelling of Dena and the less obvious one of the
simmering Josh. Tragedy in some manifestation seems inevitable.
It’s clear that the
filmmaker, who co-wrote the script and is known for a minimalist style,
is reining in the performances of her principal cast, especially
Eisenberg, who has never seemed so battened down. The same can also be
said of the virtually unrecognizable Fanning as Dena, a child actor
blooming nicely into a capable adult thespian, whose performance is
Even the suspense is
underplayed, rather than ratcheted-up, in a couple of crucial scenes and
the music by Jeff Grace is moody and — much like the pace — languorous
Where does Reichardt stand on the subject of extreme civil disobedience? Maybe it’s in the words of Josh’s employer, Sean (Kai Lennox), who dismisses the act of sabotage as ineffective “theatre.” Maybe it’s in the quiet but fervid convictions of the saboteurs.
Reichardt wisely leaves it for her audience to decide.