Aug 28, 2014, Anchorage Press
The personal is political. Night Moves, written by Kelly Reichardt and Jonathan Raymond is about three environmentally-conscious individuals who conspire to blow up a dam. Their success not only transforms them into home-grown ecoterrorists, but also unleashes unexpected consequences and interactions between the protagonists. Director Reichardt solicits stellar performances from her actors. Jesse Eisenberg plays Josh, a young, organic farmer who is at the center of the plot. Dakota Fanning as Dena gives voice to facts, stats and observations about the environmental conditions they are combating. Not only does she command key scenes, her character serves as the connecting tissue between the two more-isolated characters and the mainstream. Harmon is played by Peter Sarsgaard. Harmon is the oldest of the three, with the most real experience in dealing with The Man and is the character that drives and facilitates the terrorist act. "Night Moves" is the name of the boat transformed into a ticking bomb.
Reichardt's work explores themes of isolation in a society that is slowly coming undone at the edges. Night Moves displays traits she developed in older works including the awkward silences in Old Joy, a film about two friends on a camping trip whose experience blurs lines and redefines their friendship. Her previous work directing Michelle Williams in Wendy and Lucy and Meek's Cutoff sets the stage for directing Night Moves. These two films, especially the former, develop themes of marginalization in a population that could otherwise be perceived as privileged. Plot development is secondary to character development, and the suspense created in Night Moves is internal and between the characters, making the characters unpredictable.
In entering Reichardt's world, viewers may feel like they have stepped into a story that is already in progress. Viewers are directly involved with portions of the story that are portrayed in a finite span of time, they are not given the past story upfront, nor is the direction of the story apparent once the end credits roll. Although, Reichardt provides enough information to anchor the plot, the disadvantage to this technique is that there are a number of unanswered questions that seem fundamental to any thriller, such as, why this dam? Why on this day? How did the plot come about? One can only guess that these questions are not integral to Night Moves because the lack of context plays into a larger discussion about information, the lack thereof, and misinformation.
The dynamics of environmental politics rely on the flow of information. Information is the weapon for any supported position. One has to look no further than local and state politics to understand that information is shaped by special interests, leaving the individual lost in a sea of numbers and buzz words. The reality is such that individuals live in a world that is so interconnected, where news and rumors run wild to the degree that it is difficult to decipher which is which. And, who has the time to delve into a verification process? Who does one believe? As Josh and Harmon demonstrate, one has go out of one's way to avoid being informed or misinformed. However, living with an eye away from real or current information and critical thinking leaves one shortsighted and allows for tunnel vision. More than ecoterrorists, Josh, Dena and Harmon are reactionaries to single ideals. Night Moves depicts an environment in which the individuals are lost and consume secondary and well-masticated information so that they don't question the complexity of environmental, economic and political issues. The characters are so willing to act that they fail to think through possible scenarios. When their act has unintended consequences, the protagonists are ill prepared to deal with the consequences on an emotional and moral level.
There is fourth player in Night Moves that is not given first billing but is at its center and that of other Reinchardt films, Nature. In her previous work, like in Night Moves, Nature is more than a backdrop for plot and character development. Nature, whether it's the damp and tree-filled Pacific Northwest or the desert plains, is an active player in defining the human condition. In Meek's Cutoff, the environment is adversarial. In Night Moves, the environment is the prized jewel that Josh, Dena, and Harmon are bent on protecting at whatever the cost. Destroying the damn set Nature free. Perhaps, in return, Nature set the protagonists free to awaken to their own individual truths and own natures, for better or worse.
Night Moves plays at Bear Tooth on Monday, September 1 at 8 p.m