Crime-gone-wrong art film dud. Night Moves could have been quite good if the exposition hadn’t been so aggravatingly vague. Writer-director Kelly Reichardt seems afraid of exposition as if that would dumb down her piece. The film also doesn’t connect with you because Jesse Eisenberg is not allowed to paint an interesting human being, there’s nothing to him except a scowl of contempt. In Eisenberg’s best films, he has a scowl but there’s a convulsive brilliance to him and often has interesting things to say. Not here.
Eisenberg as a would-be revolutionary teams up with misfits Dakota Fanning and Peter Sarsgaard to bomb an Oregon dam to raise media attention on industrial exploitation of the ecosystem. How does bombing a dam become an act of reveling in ecology? I have no idea because nobody in this movie speaks up loud enough so the audience can follow. Sure, there’s a few small talks in this movie. But Reichardt could have also peppered her film with consistent gripping visuals. Here you have the natural beauty of Oregon (nice scenery), but too many static, inert camera set ups of the trio talking in the foreground against dull walls. But not saying anything, of course, that furthers our understanding of the premise.
Understanding the premise doesn’t happen until the bombing goes awry, accomplishing next to nothing, and hurting the locals. Then Eisenberg and Sarsgaard fear that Fanning’s guilty conscience will give them away in a public confession. There’s an effective creepy nighttime showdown at a hot springs spa and a denouement of a fleeing character uncertain how he’s really going to flee. The last ten minutes would have been damn good had it been a movie I cared about up until then.
Reichardt’s reputation is based on one genuine success. “Wendy & Lucy” from 2008 is the one superb film by her that has been made with genuine purpose, one that has a driving compelling interest from start to finish. The other three that I’ve seen by her have been exasperatingly minimalist, “Meek’s Cutoff” (her worst) in particular was so minimalist it barely exists. “Night Moves” had potential, but is sorely unshaped, plodding along in too much in the first half. And lastly, it makes no effective statement on ecology.
112 Minutes. Rated R.
DRAMA / CEREBRAL / LATE NIGHT FOOD FOR THOUGHT