Director Kelly Reichardt Stars Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning, Peter Sarsgaard USA 2013 Language English 1hr 52mins Colour
Taking on The Man, Oregon-style
In some ways, Night Moves is a classic thriller. It’s about the execution and aftermath of an audacious crime, about timing and the unexpected hitches that threaten a good plan and the fear and paranoia that follows. It’s got all that, and it does it well, if not at the pace that, say, Jason Statham fans would expect.
But this isn’t a crime of greed (or material need) – it is an act of terrorism designed to raise ecological awareness. And if you believe what mainstream science tells us, that we are sleepwalking towards an environmental crisis, then you probably won’t agree with what the characters are doing, but might be left wrestling with what could be done instead.
And the film is also about a place, director Kelly Reichardt’s cinematic patch, the US’s Pacific Northwest, the final American refuge for 1960s idealism. It is this atmosphere that fuels the characters’ radicalism, but it’s easy to read from the film (although this is never explicitly stated) that this dropout lifestyle is reliant on the affluence of those prospering from consumer capitalism – who is buying the pricey organic vegetables, going to the new-age spas?
We don’t learn much about the characters – Josh (Jesse Eisenberg), who lives and works at a co-op farm; his old buddy Harmon (Peter Sarsgaard); and Dena (Dakota Fanning), who works at a spa. Josh is tense and taciturn from the start, Harmon seems like the dangerous one and Dena the most vocally idealistic. We get only the tiny hints of backstory, and no explanatory speeches about what got them to this point.
Which is a good thing. Reichardt leaves the audience with plenty to work out for itself, without ever being wilfully mysterious. The friend who I saw it with talked about the movie solidly from Leicester Square to Crystal Palace.
Dakota Fanning is good in the first half – including in a crucial extended sequence – but much less so later on. Eisenberg gets to do a lot of his trademark nervous nod and little of his characteristic gabbling. And he looks significantly older than he did a couple of years ago (but not in that freaky, what-the-hell-happened-to-you? DiCaprio/Ethan Hawke kind of way). Sarsgaard fits his part nicely.
But what I am drawn back to is the sense of place – the huge piles of pumpkins, the supposedly healing crystals, the hoedowns, yurts with solar panels, and the mixture of people who have struggled to create a stake for themselves and the discontented nouveau hippies passing through… That’s what balances the unforthcoming script – this is a very rooted story.
(PS: I love the explanation for the title).
My review of Kelly Reichardt’s Old Joy is here