Night Moves

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Release: Friday, May 30, 2014 (limited)

[Theater]

You can feel it creeping in on you like a cold, dense fog. There’s a chill in the air, and although that’s just the air conditioner in the theater you’re noticing it more, for whatever reason. Your inability to sit without fidgeting in your seat for longer than a moment’s notice is a testament to the nerve-shattering apprehension and suspense that lurks around every shady twist and turn in Kelly Reichardt’s fifth directorial effort.

Compact and light on dialogue, Night Moves spells out a menacing cautionary tale about three environmental activists seeking to make a statement in their local community about a certain ecological issue. The film’s trio — comprised of Josh (Jesse Eisenberg in what might be considered a temperature tester for his villainous turn in 2016. . .), Dena, a literal independent who has severed all ties with friends and family (an excellent Dakota Fanning) and an ex-Marine, Harmon (Peter Sarsgaard) — converge on Harmon’s backwoods trailer to form a plan of attack.

What they are planning to attack is less-than-subtly referenced in the foreboding opening. Rumors circulating that Riechardt’s film is suspenseful from beginning to end any day now will cease to be rumors because it is absolutely true.

Unfortunately, Night Moves also proves to be an incredibly difficult film to review without giving away information that would break much of the tension. The narrative is built like a house of cards, precariously balanced with each successive event hugely dependent on the events that have come before. There may be few of these but they certainly are there and are pivotal, and this is due to the emphatic, almost obsessive focus on humanity.

Josh is presented by a perhaps never-scragglier Eisenberg who quickly establishes his deeply unpleasant personality. He’s quiet, awkward and constantly on edge. He has a past that’s not made readily available and therefore his character arc endures a great level of drama that serves as the movie’s main heartbeat. Barring a significant event, Night Moves focuses primarily on this character and how his actions shape his present and future, with the emphasis largely on the latter. With a deeply unsettling performance from the former Facebook magnate, the film remains compelling despite a clear lack of major dramatic occurrences, a fact which is easily forgotten just as much as it may become noticeable in other places.

Fanning’s character is similarly disturbed and frustrated by a world which she largely disagrees with. Her part in this mission signifies a chance to make her mark as well. While the film’s characters don’t really get along, they strangely bond over this weekend outing which includes a motorboat (with the film’s title painted on its bow), a flat water canoe, and 500 pounds of ammonium nitrate fertilizer. Just your typical quiet night on the lake, really.

In addition to maintaining the perfect blend of restless/resting camera angles and anxiety-inducing imagery, Riechardt manages to divide her film beautifully into two distinct tonal halves: that of everything pre-mission and that of everything post. In the first we experience a steady build-up of tension mostly generated from trying to figure out what it is these angsty individuals are up to. Once that quickly becomes clear, there’s something of a teeth-clenching  transition into a second half whose tension is comparatively unbearable. It wasn’t exactly comfortable during everything leading up until here, but expecting it to get any better as things progress is the same as being in hell and asking them to turn the heat down.

It’s hard calling these characters likable (this possibly explains why the film hasn’t taken as well with general audiences as it has with critics) but the nagging thought that these characters start to carry with them, effectively becomes your cross to bear as well. There is a desperate longing to rewind the clock and undo what has been done. The reality is too brutally obvious that this cannot be accomplished.

Night Moves may not sport the most affable cast of characters and some of its thematic presentation is rather overt, but your inability to stop watching things spiral out of control speaks even more to the quality of its construction of both story and atmosphere. Without the involvement of overly theatrical elements — sci-fi/supernatural etc — Night Moves may stay in the shadows a lot but it always remains steeped in reality.

Through unflinching bleakness Riechardt is able to assess the true cost of extreme points of view and what happens to misplaced idealism once its challenged. Her intriguing film is a documentation of human beings making horrendous decisions while having only the best intentions at heart.

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4-0Recommendation: The film may be a little prickly for some as it can be hard to empathize with these hardened individuals. Strangely, though, empathy isn’t the desired emotion Riechardt is going for here. If anything it’s the opposite. If you’re seeking out a compelling and consistently tense drama, Night Moves delivers and delivers big.

Rated: R

Running Time: 112 mins.

Quoted: “One person. . .that’s all it takes.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

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28 thoughts on “Night Moves

  1. Great cast but this one looked boring on paper. You have managed to spark my interest in it though! I did not know it would be half as compelling as you make it sound. Jesse has been appearing in a ton of independent hits lately. I heard The Double is fantastic as well!

    • The Double does look really good, you’re right. can’t wait to get my hands (and eyeballs) on it!

      As far as Night Moves goes, it deserves some love. Be prepared to want to whack Eisenberg across the face with a broken bottle on a couple of occasions, but I’d say that’s nothing unusual. I kind of wanted to do that to him the entire time in Adventureland. And I’ve been hearing he is just a massive prick as Mark Zuckerberg (I still haven’t seen that movie, somehow). So I guess what I’m saying is I would go for the performances, and particularly if you’re curious to see him taking on another baddie-type role. Good practice for Lex Luthor.

  2. Great review, man! I had heard of this one and was really intrigued by it because of the cast, but now that I read your review, I can’t wait to check it out. Loved this, most of all: “t wasn’t exactly comfortable during everything leading up until here, but expecting it to get any better as things progress is the same as being in hell and asking them to turn the heat down.”

  3. Wow, this looks really interesting. It seems like I had heard of this one but I don’t know. I probably would have missed it without your review. Glad you reviewed it.

    • Whoops, sorry for overlooking the comment Keith! 😦

      I’m very glad I could be of service, then! Night Moves won’t have the biggest release ever, but it deserves a much larger one. This thing is tense from beginning to end and the fact that I really actually detested these characters yet still loved the film is maybe my strongest bit of evidence as to why you should see it.

  4. Marvellous review, my man! You’ve sold me on this! This is a film I’d probably have overlooked but you capture it well. I’m glad you recommended it. It sounds like something I’d really get into.

    By the way, you’re writing is tip-top stuff mate! I’m very impressed. Always have been! 🙂

    • Ah, I don’t know about that man! 🙂 I appreciate the kind words. I always do my best to make my impressions clear and to lay them all out there. That said, I couldn’t help but struggle here. I really couldn’t avoid spoiling parts of the movie. But I guess in the end I came away not doing too bad of a job of that, so there’s always that victory!

      thanks again for coming by Mark. appreciate your reading.

      • That’s exactly the winner, though, man. Being able to get your shit across without spoilers. That’s key to a great review. Especially when the film itself is hard to relate without detail. I found the same problem recently with “Enemy”. I wanted to praise the movie but it’s was hard to praise it without going into detail. If you can find something to write about without divulging the goods, then you’ve won a watch. In this case, I reckon you’ve done superbly. It’s intrigued me enough to want to know more.

  5. Hi Tom! Somehow I thought Night Moves is a classic noir film or something, wasn’t there another movie w/ that name? In any case, I haven’t heard of this one but sounds intriguing.

    • Hey Ruth, yes indeed there is another film titled the same, the 1975 film with Gene Hackman is probably what you are thinking of. This film is quite excellent in its own right, though. I’d have to check out the ’75 one to see if there are any similarities but I think these are two independent stories. This is definitely a good one and I recommend it if you like suspenseful watches. 🙂

      http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/night_moves/

    • Cheers man! Night Moves to me looked very promising and fortunately it delivered, despite my great dislike of its characters. I think that speaks to the quality of the story and the high level of engagement that I didn’t dislike the movie. Because these characters are actually pretty hard to deal with at times, if I can be completely honest ! 😀

    • Thanks kindly Chris, good to see you again sir. Hope all’s well.

      This is a great showcase for a darker side of Eisenberg for sure, and it really suits because i think it might tease what he could do with something as big and sinister as Lex Luthor. Still unsure about what the end result will ultimately be, but he can clearly play a complex character. Night Moves proves it

  6. Loved Wendy and Lucy & Meek’s Cutoff and am really looking forward to this. Reichardt has such a distinctive style that really chimes with me and Night Moves moves (sorry) her into intriguing new territory. Splendid splendid splendid Tom.

    • lol, I haven’t heard of either of those two movies at all. They sound so obscure! I guess Night Moves doesn’t really buck that trend, but man alive is it great! If those are anything of this quality, then I eagerly await watching both of them.

      Thanks a lot Mark

    • Ah, excellent Wade. Thanks so much for stopping in! And thank you for the follow, I’ll be sure to return the favor later today once I’m off work and back online! Thanks man, and I hope you enjoy Night Moves if and when you can get to it.

  7. I love that you watch a lot of independent pictures. I live in the SF Bay Area so everything plays here at some point. Lately I’ve noticed the time these movies are shown is getting shorter and shorter. This one didn’t even play for a full week. Such a shame when I read your glowing review. Another rental at this point.

    • Oh man, a week! That’s criminal! Two weeks seems to be the typical shelf life of indies here at the downtown west art house theater. I’ve been really lucky as they’ve been hosting a string of excellent films, such as this and Palo Alto. I’ve got so many more on my check list, too, so I can’t wait to share my thoughts on those!

    • I’m not saying he doesn’t show up in a bush somewhere along the way. . . .

      but as far as serious camera time goes, nah man.

  8. Sounds fabulous! I am now very curious about this one. And you did a fine job balancing the need to review honestly without divulging too much information. Not an easy feat. There is another movie called “bold native” that you might find intriguing as well. It has a similar premise but is focused on animal-rights. From a couple of years ago.

    >

    • Hey I appreciate the kind words Roy, thank you. I struggled actually for awhile putting this together so I’m glad it paid off.

      I will be sure to keep my eyes peeled for Bold Native. Definitely sounds interesting. I am not a particular activist myself but I am always curious to learn about these situations. They are important

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