Jesse Eisenberg has the brooding loner act down, I’m telling you. He mastered it in The Social Network but all of the chattiness of his Mark Zuckerberg in that flick has been cut out of his character, Josh, in this one.
Night Moves is about three environmental terrorists who have set themselves to destroy a hydroelectric dam that they all feel does more harm than good. Josh works at a community supported agricultural facility but he keeps mostly to himself as he prepares the vegetables for delivery. Dena (Dakota Fanning) doesn’t seem as hardcore as he is. She works at a posh spa and apparently has a lot of money. Still, she’s involved in the caper, even bankrolling the project.
They have teamed up with Harmon (Peter Sarsgaard), the de facto leader of the trio. He’s the one with the plan, even if he has only cooked up half of it and not told the others the whole truth. He comes from a military background and so knows a thing or two about black ops and improvised explosives. Josh and Dena have been designated to buy a speedboat and bring it to him so that they can pack it full of a homemade explosive to complete the mission.
What none of them signed up for was the personal aftermath. No crime, no act of violence or destruction of property comes without personal consequences as these three come to discover. It doesn’t take long before the guilt gets to one of the conspirators and leads all of them to trouble that they didn’t expect. Paranoia soon abounds and what was once a firm collaboration turns into a situation where it’s every man and woman for him or herself.
There’s a phrase about how often the best laid schemes of mice and men go awry that seems appropriate here.
This is a movie that is meant to be about the fallout and it does a fine job of that. This is mostly because of Fanning’s ability to demonstrate an outward expression of a terrible internal emotion: regret. I’ve written before about her substantial acting prowess, even going so far to suggest that she once acted circles around Robert de Niro years ago in an otherwise lame psychological thriller. Her performance here is somewhat more subtle – muted even – but she still has the chops to show what a tormented soul looks and acts like.
Sarsgaard always makes for a fine bearded extremist type and Eisenberg’s brooding loner bit still serves him well. I must admit that I felt like the emotional punch should have hit each character harder. Perhaps the motivations were never fully explained. We didn’t truly know what was at stake for everyone. The three stars are very effective performers and have shown time and again how they can use their talents. I just didn’t see the full weight of it all here.
Perhaps that was due to how much time was spent at the beginning as director Kelly Reichardt focusing on the three as they prepared for their mission. This has all of the markings of a through-and-through indie film, complete with the haunting and excellent minimalist score by Jeff Grace and a minimalist budget to boot. We don’t even see the explosion but that would have just been another distraction from what is otherwise an excellent character drama.
I cringe at the thought that this movie showed too much. The bombing that is central to the plot is a sensitive subject to say the least, especially in Alberta where Wiebo Ludwig was convicted of sabotaging oil and gas wells not too long ago. Films like these can be criticized for opening people to the possibilities of such destructive actions, and rightly so. Considering how it all turns out for the three main characters, however, I think that the criticism can be tempered with showing the reality of the aftermath.
Despite its shortcomings, the whole enterprise is a gripping watch. It’s an intense plot with captivating actors who kept my attention for the movie’s nearly two-hour run time.
Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning and Peter Sarsgaard
Directed by Kelly Reichardt
Written by Jonathan Raymond and Kelly Reichardt
Rated 14A for violence, coarse language and brief nudity
Runtime: 113 minutes
Now playing at the Metro Cinema, in the historic Garneau Theatre, 8712 109 Street in Edmonton. Call 780-425-9212 or visit www.metrocinema.org for showtimes and a full schedule of film listings.