Year Released: 2014
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 113 minutes
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A truly great director is capable of putting their signature stamp on films that tackle a wide variety of subjects. By that measure, Kelly Reichardt (Wendy & Lucy,” “Meek’s Cutoff,” “Old Joy”) belongs alongside such auteurs as Werner Herzog, Spike Jonze, Richard Linklater and Joe Swanberg with her captivating minimalist dramas. Her latest, “Night Moves,” is among her best. It tells a tale of crime and punishment for 3 Oregon-based eco-terrorists, played with comparable intensity by Peter Sarsgaard, Dakota Fanning and Jesse Eisenberg. We are given very little back story regarding who these people are and what brought them together, but Reichardt trusts both her actors and her audience to fill in the blanks through sparse, loaded dialog and long, silent close-ups. It’s not just smart filmmaking; it’s visual poetry.
Eisenberg has already received many accolades for his brooding characters. But his portrayal of Josh, the quiet, morally-assured environmental radical, makes “The Social Network” look like community theatre. You can see his wheels turning with every, barely modified facial expression. You’re not exactly on his side, but you can’t take your eyes off of him (and neither can the camera).
Dena (Dakota Fanning) is a young idealist rebelling against her yuppie upbringing. She’s smart and quick with a retort for everyone who doubts her capabilities. Dena and Josh meet up with Harmon (Peter Sarsgaard) at his forest dwelling to carry out their mission. Harmon is an ex-Marine who questions everything but his own ideology. He’s barely joking when he tells them, “Don’t trust the raccoons.” With their individual skill-sets, the trio forms an Environmental A-Team. They carry out each detail of their plan with extreme caution, knowing they only have one shot. We don’t necessarily want them to succeed, but we care about what happens to them. We share their anxiety.
The first half of the film is about pulling off the mission but part 2 is no less harrowing. When the deed is done, there is no relief or sense of accomplishment. Their reservations simply shift. It’s important to note that “Night Moves” is not a political film. Characters make passing remarks that resemble a political debate, but for the most part, Reichardt doesn’t take sides. Instead, she presents a character study in what happens when people have their dearly held convictions blown wide open because they failed to see the big picture or consider other perspectives. They start to question their own beliefs and their trust in each other. It’s a white-knuckled slow ride through mental unraveling and an absolute must-see film.
Posted on May 24, 2014 in Festivals, Reviews by Jessica Baxter
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