2013’s Night Moves has opened in UK cinemas; Kelly Reichardt’s first bout of writing since her 1995 offbeat thriller River of Grass. But this time both her directing and screenplay are considerably tighter.
In North-West USA environmentalists Josh (Jesse Eisenberg), Dena (Dakota Fanning) and Harmon (Pete Saargard) plan an act of terrorism: the destruction of a hydroelectric dam. Resolved and committed at the start, the film explores the suspenseful build up to the attack and the corrosive effect it has on the group afterwards. The meagre $300 000 it made in the US is surprising given that the film satisfies a big demographic.
Keeping with the niche of American Indie, Night Moves dips into an arsenal of visual juxtaposition, understated camera work and making use of unspoilt landscape. Likewise you might be wondering if Eisenberg’s nerdish personae is really right for the role, or perhaps your just getting a bored with him, at first I wished Reichardt has gone with her original choice in Paul Dano. Yet Eisenberg appears to handle the subtext very well, and after half an hour he becomes rather enigmatic.
So does the film. As suspense thrillers go, Reitchardt’s script is wonderfully paced, and can keep up with the best – especially in the dynamic between its three characters as they quietly move between trusting and distrusting each other. What’s particularly effective is the use of silences and wide and enclosed spaces to show these changes. For the most part Reichardt’s directing is exquisite: apart from one beautiful tracking shot, I wish she’d held longer, her use of visual motifs is the film’s greatest strength.
Look out for Dena glumly twirling a crystal and watch how its pattern reminds her of happier times.
The casting choices of Fanning and Saargard are spot on, and Saargard’s character, Harmon, is a sinister twist on what could have been a pilsner drinking bearded cliché. Undoubtedly this film is strongest when the trio is together. Thus it loses something as it follows Josh mostly for the final act; though this is when Eisenberg is at his finest. There are a few half-comic moments that make you wish your watch Four Lions, however.
Like many such films Night Moves struggles with its ending, not knowing quite when to cut to black and leaving too much ambiguity – there might be a bit of Post Mortem-esque tension about it but I’d imagine it will fall short for most viewers.
Though it must have had one good-looking storyboard and Night Moves is very much worth your ticket money: if the weather fails to recover, it will do much better across the pond.