Night Moves

In anticipation of the release of"First Cow," THC is committing March to the films of Kelly Reichardt.

Kelly Reichardt renders the world of eco-terrorism for the clever “Night Moves.” Her screenplay may come across as an outlier from the routine of character-driven dramas but, trust me, it’s not. “Night Moves” eschews traditional gusto and tension through plot twists and backstabbing to succor its characters, as Reichardt uses her immaculate sense of composition and infamous pacing to slow burn the audience to neuroticism instead of subversively trying to get them there.

“Night Moves” is retaliation to a world in which technology has overtaken agriculture. In order to make a statement three individuals, Josh (Jesse Eisenberg), Dena (Dakota Fanning), and Harmon (Peter Sarsgaard) are going to blow up a dam. The first half of Reichardt’s delicately timed harebrained scheme sees the planning of the explosive expression; the second details the inflated fallout. These are people who have had enough of the ulcerous nuances that populate environmentalism and feel that protests are no longer vying the attention their issues demand. They're going to take action and have an impact.

Eisenberg radiates more ostracized detachment than usual, Josh is a calculated, patient terrorist. Co-writers Jon Raymond and Reichardt craft him too organic to call him deliberate but Josh is definitely the most aware of the three terrorists. Harmon, as perfectly captured by Sarsgaard in what ends up being a vociferously small role, is more able to adapt to the situation. Josh is the one who needs every detail to fall into place; Harmon is the one who rolls with the punches. In between, we have the lovely Dena, closer to Harmon in her willingness to work with what she’s given, such as in a masterfully tense scene involving the purchase of fertilizer, but clearly drawn to the brooding, purposeful Josh.

In tradition with Reichardt’s films, "Night Moves" is more about the journey than the destination. The director elegantly builds tension through the courteous impact of seemingly minor moments. As one might expect who knows Reichardt’s films, the visual supremacist avoids easy thriller clichés or even answers (an appropriate description for A24 releases). Major events take place off-screen. A key one in the final act is shot with close-ups of eyes and feet. In “Night Moves,” as in all of Reichardt’s films, it is not just the incident that matters but its build-up and follow-through. And, again, she makes a decision with her ending that will frustrate some with its ambiguity but thrill those willing to accept her speculative intentions.

I don't hesitate to say “Night Moves” is a gorgeously composed film. Reichardt’s emphasis on the natural world greatly warrants my appreciation of her skills as a visual artist. Shot by the increasingly impressive Christopher Blauvelt (who also shot “Meek’s Cutoff”), "Night Moves" is one of the most literally dark films you’ll see. So much of it is lit by on-set sources like the dash of a car, the lights of a boat, the dim light of the moon, etc. This is not one of those awful blue-lit movies in which the moon casts a boisterous turquoise hue. It is a film about people who move in darkness, willing to take chances for what they believe but only under cover of night.

© 2023 by Giorgio Citarella II