Dir: Kelly Reichardt • Wri: Jonathan Raymond, Kelly Reichardt • Pro: Saemi Kim, Todd Haynes, Neil Kopp, Chris Maybach, Anish Savjani, Rodrigo Texeira • DOP: Christian Blauvet • Mus: Jeff Grace • CAST: Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning, Peter Sarsgard
Three young, radical environmentalists – Josh (Eisenberg), Dena (Fanning) and Harmon (Sarsgard) – plan to blow up a hydroelectric dam. Kelly Reichardt records, with methodical precision, the minute details of the before and the after of the event in this riveting drama-cum-thriller. Sedate imagery and sounds can turn into something more sinister at any turn. Reichardt takes her time, examining her characters and surroundings with an astute eye and ear. Everything is in the details in this film. Reichardt consistently finds very interesting ways to both illustrate the ideological bankruptcy of her characters and to ratchet up the tension to unbearable levels. She wrings suffocating tension from the repetitive attempts to buy fertilizer without a social security card. Subtle, small scenes such as when Josh finds an injured deer on the side of the road or the inclusion of the most discreet of sex scenes paint a fascinating, complex picture of the film’s characters and the motivations for their highly dubious actions. There is an insidious sense of foreboding running throughout the film, ready to erupt at any moment. The contrast illustrated between the beautiful, calming nature and the nasty, messy humans at the heart of the film is both tragic and unsettling.
The characters are all unlikeable. They never gain our empathy as such but Reichardt’s aforementioned attention to details draw the viewer so comprehensively into their world and the world of the film, it is impossible not to feel something as their respective worlds collide in around them. The performances are uniformly excellent. Eisenberg, following on from excellent work earlier on in the year in Richard Ayoade’s The Double, here once again strikes the right kind of nebbish nastiness and underlying malevolence. Fanning is smartly cast and utterly believable as the least morally reprehensible of the main three characters. Her Dena is naïve and terribly irresponsible in her actions but she doesn’t have the same ruthlessness as either Josh or Harmon. As Harmon, Sarsgard, an actor with a lot of potential usually squandered in sub-standard fare, is terrifically slimy. From his first moments on screen he paints a character you wouldn’t trust in a million years. As his perfectly laid-out plans turn out to be not so perfectly laid, the viewer grasps his or her breath at the naivety and the ultimate selfishness of the respective characters and the ensuing gravity of their actions.
The cinematography by Christian Blauvet is flawless, being at once beautiful, naturalistic but also retaining an icy, chilly quality that suits the material. Reichardt here once again exhibits her mastery of sound through both the films sound design and Jeff Grace’s brilliant score. Reichardt has some very interesting things to say on such human responsibility, ideology and identity to name but some. Never once does the ambience she creates come unstuck to overwrought politics or philosophising. This is an understated, intellectual and rich piece of work yet Reichardt still has the guts to push the film into full-blown genre territory in the last act. While this would unbalance a lesser director, Reichardt manages to integrate this tonal shift seamlessly into her low-key aesthetic style and into the world of the film. Following on from fine films such as Old Joy, Wendy and Lucy and Meek’s Cutoff, this superb film confirms Reichardt’s status as one of American cinema’s foremost talents.
15A (See IFCO for details)
Night Moves is released 29th August 2014