Night Moves review (Birds Eye View Film Festival)

Get new reviews in your email in-box or in an app by becoming a paid Substack subscriber or Patreon patron.

Night Moves green light

Kelly Reichardt cements her reputation as one of the most provocative and engagingly watchable American indie filmmakers with a quiet, tense thriller of morality and motive.
I’m “biast” (pro): like Kelly Reichardt’s films, like Jesse Eisenberg

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

Three environmental activists in the Pacific Northwest are plotting to blow up a small dam as an act of protest: the plan is to pack a recreational boat with fertilizer and set free the water back to its natural flow. “How many golf courses does Bend, Oregon need?” gripes their leader, Josh (Jesse Eisenberg: Rio 2); there’s also bored rich runaway Dena (Dakota Fanning: The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2), whose father is unwittingly bankrolling their plan, and former Marine Harmon (Peter Sarsgaard: Green Lantern), who knows about explosives. This is a thriller of a sort, but a quiet one in which morality and motive are the matters of tense — and ultimately unresolved — speculation, and one that challenges the sympathies of even those onboard with green issues… although the land — battered and dying or lush and green — is a character always lurking in the background, literally and figuratively, in such a way that we are forced to consider what it might want, if it could speak its desires. This is exactly the sort of thriller we might expect from filmmaker Kelly Reichardt, working with her frequent coscreenwriter Jonathan Raymond, daring once again — as she has done with films such as Wendy and Lucy and Meek’s Cutoff — to look straight on at the fringes of American culture with a clear eye that is neither charitable nor caustic, and always utterly unsensational. Are even apparently selfless acts always in fact selfish? Are politics ever not personal? The thematic conundrums are underscored by an absolutely chilling performance by Eisenberg, who transforms his often quirky screen presence into something still and unsettlingly resolute. But is his Josh resolute in directions that are aimed at some greater good, or only at himself? With this haunting film, Reichardt cements her reputation as one of the most provocative, and most just plain engagingly watchable, indie filmmakers working in the U.S. today.

viewed during the 2014 Birds Eye View Film Festival, celebrating and supporting international women filmmakers

share and enjoy
If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, please reconsider.
If you haven’t commented here before, your first comment will be held for MaryAnn’s approval. This is an anti-spam, anti-troll, anti-abuse measure. If your comment is not spam, trollish, or abusive, it will be approved, and all your future comments will post immediately. (Further comments may still be deleted if spammy, trollish, or abusive, and continued such behavior will get your account deleted and banned.)
notify of
newest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
view all comments
Thu, Apr 17, 2014 6:58pm

I’m starting to think I’m seriously out of tune with the zeitgeist; Eisenberg’s another actor I find difficult to watch, but many people with whose opinions I generally agree find him compelling. But it sounds as though I should give this a try anyway.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  RogerBW
Fri, Apr 18, 2014 6:06pm

I think he’s very good, but if he puts you off, there’s not much you can do about that.

reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Sun, Apr 27, 2014 12:06am

I find that he evokes a touch of almost forced Michael Cera boyishness. Maybe that’s the off putting part? Lol

Howard Schumann
Howard Schumann
Sun, Sep 07, 2014 6:17am

I know Ms. Reichardt has said that this is a character study, not a political film, but I can’t help feeling that anyone who sees it will come away with a feeling that environmentalists are paranoid zealots who care little about the ultimate consequences of their actions. I think this does a disservice to those who are working tirelessly to help improve the planet.

reply to  Howard Schumann
Sun, Sep 07, 2014 4:21pm

Your comment reminds me of another topic that tends to come up on this website. People complain that women in movies tend to be stock characters: The good mother, the class slut, the supportive girlfriend. Usually, someone will respond: “But women are mothers, and some girls do have a lot of sex. Don’t you want movies to represent the real world?”

The problem isn’t with any one woman in any one movie (although Megan Fox’s character in Transformers deserves a lot of criticism). The problem is that there are so few women in film that every stereotype stands out.

I haven’t seen Night Moves, but I suspect it has a similar problem. The filmmakers wanted to tell a story about a group of individuals. They were probably influenced by environmental extremists they saw in the news. I can’t really blame them for choosing characters who brought drama to the story. That’s what they’re supposed to do. But it would be great to see movies about less radical, less violent environmentalists, who are much easier to find in the real world. In fact, it would be great to see anyone in a movie who isn’t a stock character. It would be great to see a film that isn’t a formulaic romantic comedy or action movie or “found footage” horror story. Night Moves apparently tried to do something different, but when it’s one of the few movies making the attempt, it takes on a lot of baggage.

Howard Schumann
Howard Schumann
reply to  Danielm80
Sun, Sep 07, 2014 5:27pm

Your comments show a great deal of insight and understanding. I’d be interested in reading any further comments you might have after you have seen the film.

reply to  Danielm80
Sun, Sep 07, 2014 9:08pm

Heh. I just re-watched Ghostbusters. That film certainly didn’t do the EPA any favors.

Are “violent environmentalists” a thing, though? It seems to me I’ve seen a lot more movies where environmental scientists are the SANE characters, warning everyone about the Volcano/Twister/Worldwide Freezing/etc before the disaster inevitably arrives.

reply to  Bluejay
Mon, Sep 08, 2014 12:30am

Are you asking whether they’re a thing in movies or in real life? I’ve definitely seen extremists in the news. I haven’t seen many environmentalists, of either kind, in the movies, but I tend to avoid CGI disaster porn.

reply to  Danielm80
Mon, Sep 08, 2014 2:51am

I’m asking about movies.