‘Night Moves’ gives good cause to protest as an edgy environmental thriller

Night Moves                                                                                                                                                                                  

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Starring Jesse  Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning, Peter Sarsgaard
Directed by Kelly Reichardt
Written by Jonathan Raymond and Kelly Reichardt
USA, 2014

There is that old adage that states if one does not stand for something they very well could fall for anything. Well, this apt sentiment certainly applies in co-writer/director Kelly Reichardt’s simmering eco-terrorism thriller Night Moves. Methodical, moody and breezily reflective, Reichardt’s suspense piece has a slow-footed pacing but registers with quiet resonance in its message about lingering environmental indifference and the retaliation against the establishment that allows for such blatant negligence.

Night Moves’ genuine tension lies in its tranquility dipped in disdain and disillusionment by its band of radical environmentalists taking matters into their own hands. Reichardt and regular collaborator Jonathan Raymond revisit the familiar themes that drive home feelings of whimsy, exasperation and defiance. Reichardt, whose first feature in 2006’s Old Joy solidified the filmmaker as an endorser of self-discovery for her cinema projects’ protagonists, pretty much sprinkles her brand of wayward idealism, intrigue and impishness in the soulful center of Night Moves’ dramatic heart. At times the story plods along but as the momentum builds up the psychological and emotional currents promises to lead the audience to a gripping payoff.

As with most ecosystem melodramas looking to embrace its poignancy and passion, Night Moves adequately addresses the shame and disbelief of a societal system that refuses to acknowledge the ruination of all things nature-friendly and sacred through the weary eyes of critical young naturalists that are pushed to their very limit of tolerance. When Night Moves raises the various questions that require answers of humane consciousness the film’s stimulation as a piece of thought-provoking entertainment hits its compelling stride. Food contamination, wildlife abuse, energy conservation, adamant protests concerning land and water deterioration–all come together as Reichardt’s slow-burn nature watch exposition weaves its share of incredulous power points.

At the center of the story are Josh and Dena (Jesse Eisenberg and Dakota Fanning), a couple of disenchanted youths wallowing in a sleepy existence within their Midwestern town. Josh and Dena are not what you would call lovey-dovey soulmates under the skin as they precariously gather to scout the massive Oregon-based hydroelectric dam that will serve as their symbolic cause to challenge the ominous industrialized cultural chaos that they equally detest. So what is in store for the ticked-off tandem? Quite simple: the goal is to detonate the dam with a boatload of explosives therefore expressing the despair and desperation they feel for the wasteful antics demonstrated by the community’s authoritative figureheads.

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Sourpuss Josh, the mastermind behind the group’s ambitious plan to destroy the dam in the name of their militant principles, has a lot on his shoulders to see through this complicated agenda. Of course is does not help that Dena, a privileged pixie that benefits from a wealthy family, triggers the suspicions in Josh. But what exactly can Josh do with his intensifying doubts concerning this well-to-do female tag-a-long when she is the financial backbone that is funding all the essential materials (and boat) to carry out this daring mission? Besides, Dena earned the right to partake in this sordid adventure so Josh has to tolerate her presence regardless.

Another questionable member of the dam demolition squad is Harmon (Peter Sarsgaard) for whom both Josh and Dena are weary about but nevertheless needs this so-called ex-Marine’s know-how with handling explosives that would be quite vital in the scheme to blow the dam to smithereens. Harmon is not quite forthcoming about his mysterious past as a law violator but still these lost souls crave the company they keep because the important thing they need to accomplish as a unit is to punish the bigwig sinners for their deceit towards environmental carnage.

Resourcefully, Night Moves is a crafty character study of a damaged threesome brought together by isolation, numbness and mental distancing. Although the first half of the film percolates with colorful definition the second half of Reichardt’s somber narrative drags in spots but one can concentrate on the meditation of the misguided trio’s angst-driven shenanigans both individually and collectively.

Eisenberg’s Josh feels wooden and boxed-in which accentuates his solemn personality accordingly as a wounded young man saddled with brilliance yet soaked with unidentified stoic-induced pain. Fanning’s Dena yearns for a sense of belonging and reassurance with this cockeyed caper serving as the only outlet where she is liberated enough to have a viable voice beyond the vulnerable exterior. Sarsgaard’s Harmon is a walking torture chamber fueled by deception and distrust.   Reichardt does not have the absolute handle on her budding tree-hugging terrorists to a certain degree but that is acceptable because they in return do not have a handle on how to secure or suffocate power in the wake of their escalating and personalized torment.

From the solid performances to the low-key conception of youth-oriented ecological radicalism to the smooth and sensual vibes of cinematographer Christopher Blauvelt’s crisp celluloid canvas Night Moves maintains an edginess in protest, purpose and promise.

–Frank Ochieng

 




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