Director: Kelly Reichardt
Screenplay: Jon Raymond, Kelly Reichardt
Producers: Neil Kopp, Anish Savjani, Chris Maybach, Saemi Kim, Rodrigo Teixeira
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning, Peter Sarsgaard
Duration: 112 mins
The recently concluded BFI London Film Festival provided me the opportunity to attend a couple of screenings of which this film was one. Night Moves featured in the Festival’s Debate gala, which showcased “riveting films that amplify, scrutinise, argue and surprise.” I can certainly vouch that this film hit 3 of the 5 descriptors, but will leave you to decide which 3, if you just read on.
For one thing, the subject matter of eco-terrorism is automatically controversial because it begs the question: where do you draw the line when “the end justifies the means”?
The film painstakingly paints a portrait of the main protagonists, particularly Jesse Eisenberg’s character, Josh, and to a slightly lesser extent the characters of Dena and Harmon, respectively played by Dakota Fanning and Peter Sarsgaard. These three characters plot and execute a daring mission to blow up a dam in a radical gesture to stick one up the nose of a faceless and presumably evil corporation. They are driven by righteous zeal to right the wrongs done to the planet, and go to great lengths to carry out their plan, but this story is less concerned with the plan or its success, despite spending over half the running time to get there. It really focuses mostly on how these characters deal with the consequence of their actions, and how they begin to unravel when faced with blanket national news coverage of an unintended victim of their bomb attack, who dies in the resulting flood from the burst dam.
The key questions explored by this movie include: what type of people undertake acts of eco-terrorism? What motivates them, and how do they live with themselves afterwards? It’s probably unfair to believe most eco-warriors fit in the mould portrayed by these damaged characters, but any bunch of people that willingly drive a boat packed with home-made explosives to a dam in order to make a point, have the makings for a good film character study
Josh (i.e. Jesse Eisenberg in full scowl mode), is a broody, melancholic and borderline psycho young man with very dark ideas on right and wrong. He is very intensely portrayed, with extreme tight close-ups and long, silent almost still takes, that convey his underlying menace. We get to watch as he navigates his way to exact the ultimate price for his fear of betrayal by the highly anxious Dena, an ex-socialite, thrill seeker with deep pockets, who financed the whole operation. Mix them in with Harmon, a reclusive ex-marine / ex-con, bomb-making expert, played by Peter Sarsgaard, and you could almost write the rest of the film with your arm in a sling. Surprising, it is not. In fact, boring may be a more apt description, given the slowness of the film, especially during the elongated, quiet, still close-up shots – e.g. the threesome travelling on a fertilizer-bomb laden boat to blow up the dam.
The one bright spot for me was to see Jesse Eisenberg in a dark, menacing role which he carried off with great aplomb. Ok, yes, the cinematography was great, and there are some moments of near levity (mainly from Peter Sarsgaard), building tension and some breath-taking natural beauty (in Oregon), but the film is a bit too long, too slow, and ultimately a too boring affair, which not even the excellent and talented cast, or the incendiary subject matter, could hope to rescue. It is definitely not my cup of fertilizer.