Review: Night Moves

Environmental activists Fanning and Eisenberg.

Environmental activists Fanning and Eisenberg.


Title:                          Night Moves

Certificate:               15

Director:                   Kelly Reichardt

Major Players:         Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning, Peter Sarsgaard.

Out Of Five:             3


Fans of director Kelly Reichardt will be in their element this week.  It starts with the release of a DVD collection of her films, including Meek’s Cutoff, and ends with the arrival of her latest offering, Night Moves.  Whether it will add to her fan base is open to question.

The story focuses on three environmental activists.  The quiet, somewhat paranoid and not overly talkative Josh (Jesse Eisenberg), the naïve and impressionable Dena (Dakota Fanning) and former Marine and ex-con Harmon (Peter Sarsgaard).  The two youngsters join forces with the older man to blow up a local hydro-electric dam which has caused the creation of a man-made lake.  But, although the plan succeeds, an innocent man dies in the process.  Guilt and paranoia mount up, with Josh and Dena finding they’re in over their heads.

They’re not an especially good team.   Josh has his ever-growing paranoia, seeing suspicion in everybody, especially after the explosion.  Dena is immature and naive: all her environmental knowledge, which she spouts at the drop of a hat, comes from just one lecture at college, yet she thinks she knows the lot.  After the explosion, she’s more fragile, her stress rash is more apparent and there’s the distinct possibility that she’ll tell somebody what they did.  But most dangerous of all is Harmon, whose environmental credentials are no more than superficial.  An ex-con and ex-marine, he’s not that concerned about the environment: he just wants to re-capture some of the excitement of his military days.

The first half of the film leads up to the explosion – the purchase of the boat, obtaining the fertiliser to make the bomb, a hitch in the group making their escape before it goes off.  When the explosion comes, there’s just a muffled sound in the distance.  Like the other major events in the film, it happens off screen, making it something of an anti-climax.  And, despite the title, it also means there’s not that much in the way of movement in the film.

It is, in fact, terribly slow.  Not that a Reichardt film is ever rushed.  As with her other movies, she’s also edited Night Moves and that’s where the problem lies, as some crisper editing would have given it the tension it really needs.  This, along with a set of characters who aren’t especially engaging, results in a feeling of detachment and no little impatience on the part of the audience.

That’s not to say that the three main players don’t give it their best shot.  Eisenberg is suitably twitchy, Dakota Fanning (Elle’s big sister) has the wide eyed naivete her part needs, as well as being irritatingly full of half-baked ideas that she’s swallowed whole.  The most complex character of the lot is Harmon, who is more of an enigma, concealing initially that he’s been in prison.  It’s a good performance from Peter Sarsgaard but, once the explosion takes place, he pretty much disappears from the film, only making an occasional appearance on the phone.

Night Moves is another of those multi-faceted titles.  It’s the name of the boat that they pack with explosive to blow up the dam and an awful lot of the story – I don’t honestly feel I can call it action – takes place at night as well, so subdued lighting and gloomy shadows run throughout the film.

The trio’s act of sabotage turns out to be futile.  As somebody points out after the event, there are plenty of dams along the river, so blowing up one isn’t action, it’s just theatre.  They were convinced it would make people think but all it does is to hold up the traffic on the local roads because of the police search – and kill an innocent man. They haven’t had the impact they were aiming for and, sadly, the same applies to the film.


Night Moves is released around the UK on Friday, 29 August.



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