What’s The Motivation: NIGHT MOVES


One phrase my professors repeated throughout film school was “show, don’t tell.” Seems like a pretty obvious tenet until you consider how many filmmakers do exactly the opposite, from Hollywood hacks to indie auteurs. Watching this film, I was struck by how much its director, Kelly Reichardt, has proven herself a master when it comes to encouraging her audience to react to what’s implied rather than what’s said. She does this to such a degree that, along with the deliberately slow pacing she utilizes, her work tends to be more challenging than your average American indie film, and occasionally more rewarding.

NIGHT MOVES might be her most accessible effort yet, primarily because it’s a thriller, a genre which almost requires a certain threshold of narrative momentum by default. It follows three eco-terrorists (Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning and Peter Sarsgaard) who attempt to blow up a dam in rural Oregon. As movies with similar subject matter go, it is almost nothing at all like last year’s THE EAST. Whereas that film blatantly spelled out all of its characters’ intentions, this one doesn’t even consider them. It doesn’t matter why these three want to destroy a dam—in fact, the first half requires us to mentally piece together that this act is going to happen by viewing the preparations leading up to it. For Reichardt, the story’s real thrust comes after these characters commit the act, and more pressingly, what its consequences are (both those foreseen and unexpected).

In its second half, the film shifts entirely to Eisenberg’s character’s point-of-view, with Fanning on the periphery and Sarsgaard almost nonexistent. Eisenberg gives the solid performance you’d expect from him—a little impatient, increasingly paranoid yet emotionally kept under wraps. Fanning, however, is more revelatory: this is the first adult role I’ve seen her in, and she positions herself as someone intelligent and assured, yet also vulnerable and eventually, sideswiped by her own actions. It’s kind of unfortunate that the second half doesn’t center on her instead, for Reichardt stumbles a bit when it comes to resolving the growing conflict between her and Eisenberg. I didn’t fully buy it because the motivation, while present, wasn’t enough to justify the too-abrupt outcome. Until then, NIGHT MOVES is a well-constructed and convincingly haunting thriller, but it lacks that crucial moment of grace and/or self-realization that Reichardt’s previous, equally inconclusive films all had.  Grade: B

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