Kelly Reichardt’s latest cinematic marvel unfolds at the borders of nature and culture; her pared down minimalism so unobtrusive it merges with the surroundings almost undetected.
It changes our viewing experience, opening up new perspectives that take realism to a higher plane, a form of cinematic purity in the André Bazin sense.
‘The ‘Night Moves’ of its title is a boat, but could just as easily describe the dark shadowy undercurrents that set the film’s distinctive tone. It gives a powerful sense of foreboding and suspense but the film never plays like a thriller; being as far removed from genre filmmaking as her outstanding revisionist Western, ‘Meek’s Cutoff’.
There’s an eerie calm here, only broken by an almighty explosion when three eco warriors blow up a hydroelectric dam to make a statement but it comes across more like ‘theatre’ as another character points out in one of the film’s best lines.
We see the build-up in minute detail and its devastating aftermath when everything goes horribly wrong; all done with a penetrating psychological depth.
Jesse Eisenberg is a brooding presence in familiar territory playing ringleader Josh, an introspective loaner with a tremendous unjustified sense of his own self-importance; quite different from Reichardt’s usual sympathetic lead.
Dakota Fanning plays his vulnerable accomplice, Dena, with real emotional force. It’s a terrific performance.
And Peter Sarsgaard brings a worldly playfulness to a complex ex-marine, Harmon, for whom the operation seems more important than the cause.
This is what naive idealism and Dostoevsky style guilt look like from a microscopic view point.