Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Night Moves Is One of Kelly Reichardt's Most Eerie Works

The trio of lead characters in Night Moves just wanted to make a difference. Josh (Jesse Eisenberg), Dena (Dakota Fanning) and Harmon (Peter Sarsgaard) are all environmental activists who despise how the modern world has ravaged Mother Nature. Wanting to make a profound point against the corporations that do the most harmful damage, the three embark on a plan. Under the cover of night, they'll set off a homemade bomb against a dam that's adversely affecting the local wildlife. In the process, they believe they'll make an unforgettable statement to the powers that be about what happens when you mess with nature.

There's one crucial part of this plan: nobody will get hurt. Only the dam will be affected by this bombing. Once they actually pull this bombing off, though, the trio learns that a man has gone missing in the wake of their actions. Kelly Reichardt's Night Moves (in addition to directing, she also wrote the screenplay alongside Jonathan Raymond) is a movie about characters whose behavior, particularly the behavior of Josh, is like a snowball traveling down a snow-covered hillside. They just keep getting more and more out of control until there's no way they can be stopped. A radical plan to violently protest on the part of the environment soon escalates into something far more gruesome.

Within this particular story, Reichardt imbues a sense of riveting tension right from the get-go as the lead characters try to assemble materials for their ramshackle bomb. This includes sending Dena into a store to up a whole mountain of fertilizer, a transaction that requires something Dena does not have on her: a social security card. This scene, consisting of Dena trying to wriggle out of this necessity as well as her returning to Josh & Harmon to figure out how to handle this complication, is a great example of how well Night Moves creates suspense out of mundane obstacles. Thanks to how it's been clearly established that everyone in this operation is a novice at pulling off these kinds of missions, Reichardt and Raymond's writing keeps you poised at the edge of your seat waiting for the other shoe to drop.

When will things escalate to the next degree for these people so clearly out of their depth? Viewers are kept on pins and needles, knowing that there's inevitable chaos on the horizon. There's a captivating sense of subdued dread oozing into each frame once the third act arrives. This is where the consequences of the trio's behavior truly come to the forefront and begin to impact each of the leads differently, with Josh's response to the tragedy being especially unnerving. It's a character that constantly surprises the viewer in terms of what lengths this guy will go to keep himself out of prison. Much of the chilling nature of Josh comes from the careful writing & directing but also Jesse Eisenberg's performance.

Once again I'm left wondering why Eisenberg isn't a more widely-beloved dramatic performer given how he once again pulls out a totally unique and totally terrific performance. Whereas many of Eisenberg's comedic performances have relied on him handling dialogue-based jokes relying on him portraying a nervous motormouth, Night Moves calls on Eisenberg to play a shut-off soul who uses the bare minimum of words in any conversation. He's a closed-off person who already sets off warning signals in your brain even before he sets off a bomb. Eisenberg nicely realizes that eerie nature while lending equal levels of authenticity to later sequences showing Josh in a frantic state of mind as he worries about his actions catching up to him.

Also noteworthy in terms of acting in Night Moves is Dakota Fanning who fares well in portraying Dena's transformation from a gung-ho college kid with something to prove into somebody, post the bombing, tormented over what she's done. She's got some truly effective moments of vulnerability here that have me yearning to see her do more dramas. Similarly as evocative as Fanning is an early shot of the lead trio passing by a demolished forest that two young boys are staging a play gunfight in. Here, the way humans desolate nature is presented in stark terms as is the fact that violence is so omnipresent in American society that it manifests in our children when they're engaging in lighthearted playing. Both man's impact on the natural world and the widespread nature of violence play heavily into Night Moves which turns out to be yet another Kelly Reichardt movie that really sits with you long after it's over.

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