Wednesday 7 July 2021

Movie Review: Night Moves (2013)

A crime drama, Night Moves accompanies young environmentalists veering towards an act of terrorism to protest corporate greed and disregard for nature.

In Oregon, activist Josh (Jesse Eisenberg) volunteers on an organic produce farm. His friend Dena (Dakota Fanning) works at a spa, and they join forces with ex-Marine Harmon (Peter Sarsgaard) to plan an eco-terrorist attack on a hydroelectric dam. Their objective is to raise awareness about climate change and the harmful impacts of dams on wild fish habitats, without causing casualties.

Dena comes from a rich family and provides the cash to buy a motorboat. The trio then have to purchase enough ammonium nitrate fertilizer, a controlled substance, to create the bomb. Despite careful attention to detail in planning the nighttime explosion, not everything will go according to plan, resulting in serious rifts between the three conspirators.

Moody, dark, and slow, Night Moves explores misguided idealism. Director Kelly Reichardt co-wrote the script with Jonathan Raymond, and adopts a tight focus on three people, allowing the greater issues to simply exist as background context. With deliberate pacing and sparse content, the film feeds on the intensity of deluded adults meandering into a major crime. The Pacific Northwest milieu is suitably moist and dour, but while the rain forest is the source of beauty, the film's low budget is also exposed, particularly in an embarrassingly static driving scene.  

The mostly off-the-grid existence of Josh, Dena, and Harmon is devoid of grand speeches or debates. They function either alone or within a close-knit community of like-minded individuals, and have crossed the line from living sustainably to a yearning for dramatic yet misguided action to wake up the world. 

For the more susceptible and fragile Josh and Dena, the absence of parents and family members is notable, while Harmon's military background affords him greater swagger. Night Moves is most compelling in the lead-up to the attack as a tense dynamic develops between the three conspirators, Dena improvising with tenacity to secure the bomb material, the trio then forced to smooth out an unexpected wrinkle on the night of the bombing.

Energy seeps out of the final act. Reichardt is only interested in the aftermath of the crime from the perspective of the criminals themselves, and Night Moves traces grim disintegrations at the individual and friendship levels. The physical consequences of the terror attack are described in abstract terms, and the subsequent investigation plays no part in the narrative. When disparate coping limits inflict internal depletions, external interventions are superfluous.

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