It’s the sense of alienation that lingers. Like a morning haze that
just never burns off, Kelly Reichardt’s latest movie Night Moves hangs
over you with a slightly icy chill.
It’s creepy, unsettling and
depressing, but that’s what makes it so insightful on so many levels
because this is a story about moral responsibility.
It’s also a
thriller that pivots on a timely premise: The exploitation of natural
resources, and the point at which the common person decides to
Josh (Jesse Eisenberg) and Dena (Dakota Fanning) are
two young idealists who live in the Pacific Northwest. Josh works on an
organic farm and Dena has a yoga studio, but we soon learn they are
pursuing other passions as well.
Josh and Dena want to make a
statement. They feel the corporate world has gagged the people and
forced them to swallow lies for too long. They see clear cuts. They see
toxic streams and expropriated land. They see forests razed for profit
and fish killed for hydroelectric expansion, and they see no one
standing against it.
Reichardt doesn’t bother getting into the
nitty-gritty of activist cell building and secret networks, but she
eventually opens the curtains to let us see what’s really happening
behind the pastoral pictures.
Josh and Dena are planning to make a bomb and blow up a dam.
some, they are eco-terrorists. To others, they are freedom fighters.
But for Reichardt, they are just people, which is why Night Moves turns
out to be such an interesting philosophical essay on the nature of
The filmmaker who gave us Wendy and Lucy as well
as Old Joy and Meek’s Cutoff creates a complex series of scenarios that
chisel away at our two protagonists. As the chips and chunks fall with
each swing of the mallet, we begin to see a different texture in the
stone, as well as the distinct character flaws.
Josh seems sweet
and gentle, but we realize his fear makes him dangerous. Similarly, Dena
seems smart, together and responsible, but her righteousness makes her
arrogant, and arrogance leads to folly.
Together, they don’t seem
capable of anything more radical than a sit-in with a stink bomb, but
when they hook up with Harmon (Peter Sarsgaard), a former soldier with
explosives expertise, the skies darken with looming consequences.
any other director’s hands, this story would probably look like a Jason
Bourne movie, complete with cops and some well-intentioned reporter who
will break the real news story and save the fish.
knows better than to sell the big lie. She knows most people don’t care
enough about dams or continuing environmental degradation to actually do
She knows the world would rather sit and watch
the landscape whoosh by through the window, so that’s what she gives
us: A series of stunning, slow-moving landscape paintings inhabited by
these detailed characters.
The scenes look idyllic and soft, like a
John Constable canvas, but if we look closely, we can see that all the
landscapes have been transformed by industry. Quiet green forests are
sliced open by logging roads. Meandering rivers are stalled by concrete
walls and peaceful fields echo with the sound of the Interstate.
visuals tell the whole story in silence, but they also provide an
eloquent context for each character, allowing Reichardt several modes of
Rarely does she go for the point-blank utterance
that offers closure and a definitive interpretation. She goes for shades
of meaning until actions leave no room for ambiguity, and at that
point, we’re already lost in a moral tornado.
Perhaps the most
sophisticated movie about humans and the environment ever made, Night
Moves will probably prove frustrating to anyone looking for a black and
white manual on right and wrong.
But for all those who enjoy slow
walks through the marbled halls of art, Night Moves is one piece worth
staring at because depending on your angle and the light, it could be a
whole different picture.