Director: Kelly Reichardt
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning, Peter Sarsgaard
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Eco-terrorism is in. Hot on the heels of The East comes another sabotage thriller, Night Moves, which examines what it takes to cross the line into activism.
Jesse Eisenberg plays Josh, a twenty-something guy who lives in a commune. They grow their own vegetables. They take care of animals. What they don’t do is blow things up. But Josh is tired of small acts to help the environment. He wants to make a statement. So he, former army man Harmon (Sarsgaard) and Dena (Fanning) hatch a plan: destroy the nearby dam.
Events unfold slowly under Kelly Reichardt’s watchful eye. The film may be called Night Moves, but she’s happy for things to stay stationary. That’s both the film’s greatest strength and biggest weakness.
In the run-up to the bombing, the methodical assembling of details provides a riveting drip-feed of tension; one scene where Dena has to lie to get hold of nitrogen fertiliser is gripping, despite mostly revolving around administrative paperwork. Sarsgaard gets information wrong, but only slightly – just enough to sow seeds of uncertainty. And the arrival of a hitchhiker on the afternoon of the incident instantly spells bad omens.
The nocturnal manoeuvre itself is an equally nail-biting set piece, as things hinge on something as dull as a flat tyre. That reliance on the mundane gives Reichardt’s thriller a foot firmly in real life, one that squelches in the marshy hues of her dark, rural frame.
Then, just as the gradual pace pays off, everything comes to a halt. The second half of Night Moves stands still, watching as our young activists suffer a major attack of guilt. Dakota Fanning quivers as the doubting Dena, a strong contrast to Sarsgard’s calm senior, but it’s Jesse Eisenberg’s gradual meltdown that keeps you watching. As he goes from eager idealism to grim determination, the existential, moral waters get murkier and the speed gets slower. Sometimes, though, you suspect that momentum has left the film sabotaging itself.
Night Moves is available to watch online on BFI Player+, as part of a £4.99 monthly subscription.
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