Disconnected landscapes

Night Moves. Rated M. Release date: 11 September 2014. Director: Kelly Reichardt. Running time 112 minutes.

Even a decade on from 9/11, terrorism and the motives of the people behind it remain a subject hard to examine rationally in the West. With Night Moves, director Kelly Reichardt (Wendy & Lucy, Meek's Cutoff) gets around at least some of those hurdles by focusing on a cell of eco-terrorists, whose concern for – if not their 'defence' of – the environment is somewhat closer to the mainstream than the beliefs of many extremist groups.

As with her previous films, Reichardt is interested here in people moving through and reacting to their landscape. The drama in those films came from her characters not having the tools to survive in an uncaring world, whether as early American settlers or down-on-their-luck drifters. In Night Moves, the drama comes from the way their reaction to their environment cuts them off from the world around them.

Josh (Jesse Eisenberg) works on an eco-friendly farm outside Portland on the US west coast, but his activism extends far beyond film nights and sustainable crops. Together with the more overtly right-on Dena (Dakota Fanning) they buy a powerboat and deliver it to Harmon (Peter Sarsgaard), who provides both fake IDs and the fertiliser bombs they need for their mission: blowing up a local dam.

Much of their scheme – buying the boat, trying to get more fertilizer, making sure that no-one stumbles across their plans as they set up the bomb - plays out like a low-key 70s thriller. But it is increasingly clear that the real drama here isn't the destruction they wreak (their efforts are dismissed as theatre' by one authority figure) but the cost they personally pay for their actions.

Josh is the most self-contained of the trio, but what early on seems like steely determination is slowly revealed to be something more fragile, while Dena's more open support for the cause becomes a negative in the eyes of the others once the consequences of their actions becomes real.

Reichardt tells the story in a distant, somewhat emotionless fashion, her long static takes suggesting a world where characters have to impose their own meaning on things, and then pay the price for their choices.

All three leads are excellent, but Eisenberg's performance is the heart of this film. He turns his trademark energy inwards to play a man locked down inside himself, his nervousness revealed only in the occasional darting look. Initially hiding his true nature and beliefs from his friends and co-workers seems like a vital part of his mission. But gradually his refusal to connect with others turns toxic. His evil acts may have come from a good place, but in doing evil that good place is lost to him forever.


Anthony MorrisAnthony Morris is the current DVD editor of The Big Issue. He writes about film and television for various publications, including Geelong street paper Forte and Empire magazine, as well as The Vine and The Wheeler Centre website.

Topic tags: Anthony Morris, film review, Night Moves, Jesse Eisenberg, Kelly Leichardt, eco-terrorism



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