We’ve all met activists that seem to have a bit more anger than your average activist. You’ve met the ones – they’ll tell you what’s wrong with the world, even if you don’t ask. They probably have chalked up a few chargers of criminal mischief. They believe – to paraphrase a David Fincher film – that to get people’s attention, you can’t just tap them on the shoulder anymore; you have to hit them with a sledgehammer.
One wonders if these militant activists, who sometimes border in eco-terrorists – really have the strength of character they think they have.
Kelly Reichardt’s latest film NIGHT MOVES is about three such activists. Dena and Josh (Dakota Fanning and Jesse Eisenberg) are friends who live and work in Oregon. As the film begins, we find them talking atop a dam that they believe has had a serious negative impact on the ecosystem around them. By the time the film begins, they have already put into motion plans to blow the dam up for the greater good. They rally up with Josh’s friend Harmon (Peter Sarsgaard) and put their plan into motion.
The film is unofficially divided into two equally fascinating halves.
The first has the three putting their plan together, and going out into the Oregon woods to try pulling it off. In this half, Reichardt does amazing things to keep both the stakes and the tension high. It’s here where the smallest things carry an amazing amount of consequences. When every person these three characters meet can potentially blow their cover, every encounter – both deliberate, and accidental – comes with a great deal of risk. We feel every ounce of it…from a glance at a security camera, to an image of mud on a character’s boot.
The second leads us to think about convictions. Without giving away whether or not the bomb plot was successful, Dena, Josh, and Harmon all come away from the night with different frames of mind. There’s a mix of defiance, stress, and paranoia that each deals with in radically different ways. It leads us to think about what we believe we are capable of doing. We might think we have the disposition to do something others don’t have the stomach for…but would we then have the fortitude to carry on with our lives. Seeing the way these actors do and don’t deal with what has happened, gives what would otherwise be a run-of-the-mill heist film some real weight.
NIGHT MOVES uses subtle touches to keep its audience deeply engaged, and it’s a story of fortitude that shouldn’t be missed.