The critically-lauded Night Moves has nothing whatever to with the Bob Seger song or the 1975 Arthur Penn movie with the same name. No, this most recent effort from indie darling Kelly Reichardt is an eco-thriller where the thrills are few and far between. It is very similar to her other movies that I’ve seen –Wendy and Lucy (2008) and Meek’s Cutoff (2010). (I disliked the former and liked the latter.) It is slow, ponderous and brimming with characters about whom we know almost nothing – and get to know little more. In the world of Reichardt’s films, the characters are rarely more than ciphers. In Night Moves we have three characters, Josh (Jesse Eisenberg), Dena (Dakota Fanning) and Harmon (Peter Sarsgaard), out to blow up a dam for ecological reasons that are never very specific. Less specific still is why these people are eco-terrorists, or activists, if you prefer. All we know is that they are and that they’re very serious indeed. We can tell this because they are perpetually glum-looking.
”Perpetually glum” actually serves as a pretty good description of the whole movie – excuse me, film. At no point could Night Moves be considered sufficiently flippant to be a mere movie. That’s actually a large part of the problem. It’s so busy being serious that it never even tries to be entertaining. I will concede that this is less ridiculously gimmicky than last year’s eco-thriller The East (and at least Night Moves doesn’t star Brit Marling), but it also has no sequences that work as well as the best of The East. It constantly mistakes the drab for the profound. People say and do things of no great importance and even less interest in the name of, I guess, realism. And I should note that quite a lot of critics have bought into the idea of the film’s significance. It has been likened to early Hitchcock. (I can only guess that refers to the 1936 film Sabotage, since it also depicts acts of terrorism, but that’s about it.) I’ve seen it said that Night Moves has “nail-biting” suspense, but I never experienced any such thing. You may feel differently,
The film basically falls into two sections. The first part deals – in great detail – with preparations to blow up the dam, and with the dam being blown up (offscreen, of course). The second part deals with the protagonists, well, the two younger ones anyway, sinking into guilt (some one was killed in the explosion) and paranoia. This would work if the viewer was invested in the characters. But for my money, there are no characters, just two actors going through the motions to get to an improbable big moment and the inevitable inconclusive indie ending. It is, however, worth bearing in mind that mine is a minority opinion. Rated R for some language and nudity.