Night Moves (2013) / Drama-Thriller

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for some thematic elements, violence and language
Running Time: 95 min.

Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning, Peter Sarsgaard, Alia Shawkat
Director: Kelly Reichardt
Screenplay: Kelly Reichardt, Jonathan Raymond

Review published June 18, 2014

Filmmaker Kelly Reichardt (Wendy and Lucy, Old Joy) explores the sickness-inducing power of guilt and remorse with Night Moves, which explores the activities of three young Oregonians who end up engaging in an act of eco-terrorism in an effort to turn the tide of humankind's slow but inevitable (they feel) descent into destroying the ecosystem we all need to survive.

Jesse Eisenberg (The Double, Rio 2) gets the main role as Josh, who works as a farmhand for an organic local grower, who is stirred to action by the kind of information he and his friend Dena hear while attending provocative presentations on the environment and Earth's bleak future.  The two decide they're not going to let government and business continue to destroy the planet, so they hook up with an enviro group leader named Harmon (Sarsgaard, Blue Jasmine) in a scheme to blow up one of the hydroelectric dams in one of the state's rivers so that people will stop killing salmon in order to have power to run their iPods, and other frivolous creature comforts.  Their mission is a bit herky-jerky, and they begin to suspect that, even if they get away clean, their conscience will begin to gnaw at them, causing a schism among the parties who are all struggling to deal with the aftermath of their actions.

Reichardt's delivery of the film is slow and deliberate, letting the weight of each situation sink in.  While the film might ostensibly be about environmental themes, it actually delves far more into the nature of guilt, paranoia, and the difficulty of getting away with crimes, especially those done by people with great conscience.  The film is more of a drama than a thriller, providing a case study of the psychological effects of remorse, as well as the conflicting nature between need for people who do bad deeds to want to share that guilt with others, as well as to silence it once it looks like bad things will come back to bite them in turn.

Night Moves features solid, understated performances, especially by star Eisenberg, whose quiet brooding speaks volumes about the complexity of his state of mind at various times, as well as his disconnect, both mentally and emotionally, with what's going on with the world around him. In some ways, perhaps it might be too staid in its approach, as the tension should be overwhelming and claustrophobic, instead of matter-of-fact in the way it plays out.  It's a bit like The East, except with a more realistic, less sensationalized plot (and a Sarsgaard instead of a Skarsgard).  Reichardt's approach is methodical, showing every major step from idea, to execution, to the aftermath.  Some viewers might find it too distanced, others absorbing.  If you're into psychological dramas, served cold and dispassionately, it will likely meet well with you.

Qwipster's rating:

2014 Vince Leo