As Josh Stamos (Jessie Eisenberg) drives on the blackened country highway road somewhere in Oregon, he swerves over the traffic lane, trying to avoid a doe lying on the cold asphalt. The car suddenly stops, and Josh, along with his companion Dena Brauer (Dakota Fanning) get out of the car and approach the doe. From a distance, Dena watches while Josh kneels beside the dead animal. “Her belly is warm. She’s pregnant” exclaims Josh. Seconds later, Josh unflinchingly pushes the doe and her barely breathing baby on the side of the road, helpless.
Now, here’s the clincher, Josh, along with Dena are radical environmentalists who plan to blow up a hydroelectric dam of some wealthy multi-international corporation. Don’t get me wrong, that scene was put their for a reason. Now, whether it was to foreshadow Josh’s eventual dark turn, or symbolic towards a twisted mandate of the environmentalists, or as a dichotomy, it seems strange that mere minutes later, Josh is so concerned with blowing up a dam that kill salmon. Is it me, or are Josh’s intentions a little backwards?
I know the expression goes, saving many fishes rather than one big fish is a good thing, but change begins with one act of kindness, one life being saved, one moment of goodness.
Kelly Reichardt is no stranger to minimalistic filmmaking. Her previous films, Meek’s Cutoff, Wendy & Lucy, Old Joy, and River of Grass serve as exceptional examples of small, independent and thought-provoking filmmaking. But minimalism is not so original and cutting edge when it comes to the festival circuit. Its more like bringing a Razzie to an Oscar after party. Simplicity better be done well, especially with excellent talent backing it, otherwise, its just a slap to the face especially with emerging independent filmmakers and fresh foreign newcomers within the festival circuit who do so much, with very little or nothing at all.
Night Moves is a disastrous film. Following three dedicated environmentalists, who believe that raising awareness, holding lectures, and being a part of agricultural communities isn’t enough anymore, they collectively decide to blow up a dam.
The film itself starts off slow and dry, but the camera follows the majestic wilderness and these characters well. What quickly becomes a compiling reel of gorgeous shots slowly turns into an annoying, misleading faux thriller. Reichardt, along with fellow screenwriter Jonathan Raymond, I’m sure had some interesting commentary to make. But, it seems, the characters, along with the film, are lost for words (literally) and become more interested in the ground crumbling underneath them and the water flowing in the opposite direction.
There are moments throughout the film that give insight and provide realism to the act of terrorism our activists are wishing to achieve. A scene involving an elaborate plan with an ex-marine and explosive specialist, Harmon (Peter Sarsgaard) on purchasing 500 pounds of ammonium nitrate fertilizer without raising any eyebrows sticks out in my memory and adds to some sparse humour in the film. Overall, the film is more an exercise of moving in complete darkness than at night; your doing the motions but no one is able to see.
Jessie Eisenberg is cursed to carry a film that is incoherent, lame and hollow. Eisenberg’s Josh has an abundance of moods; paranoia, ruthlessness and pure evil. It’s really too bad that Josh’s character’s lack of personality really mirrors the film’s lack of passion and highlights its many flaws and cheap, forced, snobby plot.
Night Film Reviews: 3/10 Stars