Taking a very different approach to the environmentalists on a mission seen in The East, Night Moves is a thriller that simmers rather than boils. But to assume that little happens is a mistake. Plot is of secondary importance here but character, and the conflict they each face, is paramount.
Josh (Jesse Eisenberg) and Dena (Dakota Fanning) want to draw attention to the world’s environmental issues by making a statement big enough not to ignore. Recruiting former marine Harmon (Peter Sarsgaard) to help them plot the destruction of a hydro-electric damn the group soon find themselves having to deal with more than just concerns of logistics as paranoia and personal insecurities begin to rear their head.
Kelly Reichardt’s film unfolds slowly, never feeling the need to rush either the plot or characters into big Hollywood moments. Instead Night Moves presents little in the way of action but rather plotting and subterfuge in order to slowly get beneath the skin of the key characters.
Their motives are never clearly explained making it all the more intriguing to witness the characters slowly unravel as unforeseen circumstances test their drive and determination. Putting this into perspective there are only really two set-pieces the film offers; one a scene in which Dena tries to buy fertiliser, the other one that hinges on the genuine tension of a car with a flat tyre.
Like its characters Night Moves posses a visual understatement, a drab and over-cast scenery that matches the reserved yet always loaded performances and sparse dialogue. Early on the theme of man versus nature is presented but often only for Reichardt to distract us from the more obvious nature of man being the key focus point and one that she executes with subtle pace.
Dakota Fanning, who up to now seems to have struggled in matching her childhood stellar career with the maturing adult roles, is on solid form. Her Dena is the character that goes through the most changes but in doing so gently reveals that she was perhaps never ready to be part of this take-no-prisoners world. Sarsgaard is typically magnetic without ever over-selling Harmon, rather he is business-like in his approach and execution. Meanwhile Eisenberg is riveting as the film’s central character. Conflicted, powerful and brilliantly paranoid Eisenberg is always at his best in his subdued screen-presence, a presence that shuffles his feet while often struggling to make eye-contact.
Perhaps too lethargic at times but a film that possesses power in its stillness Night Moves is hypnotically conflicting in its ability to penetrate the audiences’ moral compass.