“NIGHT MOVES” IS a B movie masquerading as an “A”. Seems that the producers well recognize this, as this BFI submission isn’t expected to be aired in the UK until February of 2014 (that pre-Oscar dead zone). It should have been better: the story focuses on a group of environmentalists, who, impelled to do something, decide to blow up a hydro-electric dam. At issue is the question – what should ordinary citizens (i.e we in the audience) do to help save the planet in the face of the implacable indifference of political and corporate power? This kind of eco-terrorism is at best a quixotic, even dangerous, gesture that, as various commentaries make clear, will make no difference whatsoever. And yet, the structure and style of the film seems to suggest that at least it’s a gesture… better than the gestures that we all make, which amount to pretty much nothing.
Director/writer/editor Kelly Reichardt has crafted a story that –wilfully- offers us no trace of the human motivations that underlie this act of terrorism. What brought them here? What drove them to such a point of extremism? What really is their relationship with each other? Why does Josh (a blank expressionless Jesse Eisberg, whose last half-way decent movie was “The Social Network”) accept the fact that Dena (Dakota Flemming, stalwart veteran of other film classics such as the Twilight series) is making love with his brother, Harmon (Peter Sarsgaard who actually seems to be trying to infuse the skeleton of his character with a few noticeably human twitches)? Is he jealous? Do we care?
Reichardt has sought to create a dynamic tension between the story’s inherent narrative drama (the bad, though accurate tag line could have been, “This is a story of sex, terrorism and murder”) and the way it is portrayed: by stripping away any trace of B movie exaggeration.
The result is that you feel as though you’re sitting through a class for movie-makers, rather than a fully fleshed out drama for movie goers.
We follow the trio as they put in place their plot – first purchasing a boat, then the fertilizer needed for the bomb, then locating the place to anchor the boat on the dam etc – from the quasi-documentary perspective of a camera that offers no moral commentary. There is –deliberately? – no build up of tension. So, whether they’re buying the boat or escaping the law, the emotional timbre of the movie, thanks in no small part to Jeff Grace’s low-impact electronic score, and Eisenberg’s emotional neutrality, remains unchanged. The whole thing is so low keyed that the fact that the trio sleepwalk through the story, seems all for effect.
Reichardt’s style of directing seeks to turn us into disinterested observers. We know only as much as we’re allowed to see; there is no attempt at an internal, unseen dimension. And as with any purely external observation, we remain clueless as to motives beyond the obvious political one.
Our – the audience’s – deliberate cluelessness is, Reichardt seems to suggest, is a kind of cluelessness and disinterestedness which is in itself a kind of culpability.
Frankly it’s a disinterestedness that should keep movie goes away from what I suspect will be a movie that falls without a trace