A few weeks ago, we were all gorging ourselves on a feast of food and drink, the kids were playing with their new toys and video games, whilst the elders attempted to figure out how to turn on their iPad’s and Kindles. Wrapped up in the Christmas bliss, we spend little time considering the impact we are having on the world. What did the kids do with last year’s toys? Will there be enough Indium Tin Oxide for when our children’s children want the iPad 99? Was that whole Salmon responsibly sourced?
Humanity’s overriding lack of guilt is the fundamental concern of Kelly Reichardt’s Night Moves. Set around three committed environmentalists, Josh (Jesse Eisenberg), Dena (Dakota Fanning) and Harmon (Peter Sarsgaard), we learn that even those who believe they are behaving the ‘right way’, can be too wrapped up in their own ideology to realise the damage they invariably create themselves. This is not an enovirontmenalist story, but a study of us.
After becoming frustrated within their self sustaining communities and the lack of progress they are making on the larger scheme, Josh and Dena hatch a plan to meet with Harmon, whose origins remain veiled, to blow up a hydroelectric river dam. Their master plan feels uncertain, much like the first half of the film, which plods along with as much energy and pace as the energiser bunny were it being fuelled by a vegetarian’s farts. Masterfully, the plan does come to fruition and the dam does blow, however, despite some initial excitement, the aftermath isn’t as exhilarating as we would expect.
As Dena struggles with the group’s actions, Josh grows increasingly paranoid, forgetting the consequences of his actions in favour of his own immediate satisfaction, before acting out and leading us to a chilling finale. This all comes a little too late to lavish the film with praise as a piece of filmmaking, but that underlying important message does resonate as the credits roll. So to a degree Reichardt has used the medium to good effect, but at the sacrifice of entertainment value, which will certainly divide audiences.
The division will ultimately stem from the simply awful characters and, to a lesser extent, the performances – Eisenberg and Fanning are as resourceful with the meagre scraps of dialogue they do have as the environmentalists are with their food rations. Character development is absent, dialogue is bitty and lifeless, origins and relationships are completely unexplained. This could all be by design, to keep the focus rooted on the film’s moral intent, but with a run time of two hours, Reichardt can’t expect the picturesque locales and some beautiful tracking shots to fill the void left by the appalling pacing and to carry the film through to the films final quarter.
Alas, January is a good time as any to reflect and consider how we can improve, not only ourselves, but our impact on others, and so the timely Blu Ray release of Night Moves seems appropriate. Undoubtedly Reichardt’s desire to have people think and act with a broader understanding of their actions will resonate with people. However, it could be argued Reichardt has fallen foul of her characters’ flaw, with too much emphasis on sending a message and, as a consequence, reducing the size of the audience she is speaking out to.
Night Moves is out on Blu Ray & DVD now
Words > Sam Lawrence