Published on August 29th, 2014 | by Craig Silliphant0
Night Moves might be too slow for the multiplex crowd, but it feels like director Kelly Riechardt wants to be an agitator against Hollywood movies.
One of the worst parts about the betrayal of a close friend, or the break up of a long-term romantic partner, is the sudden loss of communication. At one time, you were as close as two human beings can be, having each other’s ear, finishing each other’s sentences, and knowing each other’s innermost thoughts. But when the dam breaks, that rushing water carries away your intimacy, to the point that you can’t believe you ever knew the other person that well. You run into them in the supermarket and have nothing to say, and you certainly have no sway on their opinion or actions. Human relationships can endure, but they can also be as tenuous as a strand of silk.
In Night Movies, Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning, and Peter Sarsgaard play three radical environmentalists that take a journey to the woods on a secret mission to bomb a hydroelectric dam. In the first half of the movie, they strategize the event, growing ever closer. They start out with some clashing, but bond over their plans, becoming simpatico. The second half of the film deals with the fallout of their actions. They have split apart to deflect suspicion, and their physical distance quickly becomes that bewildering emotional distance, as distrust and paranoia grow.
Director Kelly Riechardt, who also directed films like Wendy and Lucy and the revisionist western Meek’s Cutoff, has created a strange animal here. While her characters protest environmental issues, the movie itself doesn’t really get into preaching at you at all. If anything, she seems to be protesting the idea of big movies; she has cast several big Hollywood actors in a movie with an exciting sounding premise, but in reality, I’m guessing it would drive most multiplexers out of the theatre. It’s a slow burn of a movie, a simmering character study about the consequences of thinking too largely.
In fact, without giving anything away, a lot of the big action even happens off screen. I’m not sure whether that was due to budget constraints or not, but either way, she and writer Jonathan Raymond use the tactic to deflect from big movie tropes and put the focus back on their characters. There’s a bit of violence near the end that is one of the freakiest, trippiest sequences of its kind in recent memory; instead of turning the violence into a Michael Bay-style celebration of brutal excess, it becomes a Hitchcockian bit of slow, vicious love making. It’s highly effective.
The actors do a fine job, and it’s nice to see James LeGros in a cameo. Eisenberg, who I never want to like, once again proves me wrong. He has the unenviable task of trying to be a likable main character, while also being a bit of a snake in the grass as he comes undone.
Night Moves will undoubtedly be too slow for some people, but it’s not really slow at all. It’s always building and growing, from the promise of their big action, to the smoldering tension and paranoia that follows.