Night Moves (★★★)

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night_moves_ver3Tribeca Film Festival: At this point, I basically think I know what I’m getting myself into when I sit down to watch a new Kelly Reichart movie, and I don’t mean that as a bad thing either, just a fact of the matter. Night Moves is possibly her most mainstream outing yet (or at least close to it), though in no way is it a multiplex sort of film. This drama/thriller hybrid is a real slow burn, almost to the point where it suffers, at least in terms of pacing. Especially in a festival environment like I saw it at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival, you really want a briskly paced flick if possible. That being said, Reichart again fills her movie with top notch performances, this time from the likes of Jesse Eisenberg and Dakota Fanning, both of whom get to stretch a bit as actors. They help keep you interested while the plot sometimes progresses at a snail’s pace. The second half of the film is much different than the first half, so depending on your tastes, you’ll either really like or really dislike where Reichart takes the story. For me, both sections were flawed yet effective enough to result in a final product that I can actually recommend without much hesitation. Night Moves isn’t Reichart’s best, but it is likely her most accessible, and that’s something to take note of for sure.

We open by meeting a pair of characters who initially have unknown intentions. They’re looking at a dam and speaking ominously, but they appear harmless enough. We learn quickly that both Josh Stamos (Eisenberg) and Dena Brauer (Fanning) are hardcore environmentalists, but it’s not until they go meet with Josh’s friend Harmon (Peter Sarsgaard) that it becomes clear what they’re really up to. The three of them plan to blow up that dam, all on their own. The plan begins to be set in motion, and once you see the end result of their plot, that’s when things take a big turn. I don’t want to say exactly what happens, but while the first half is almost a terrorism procedural of sorts, the second half enters almost psychological thriller territory. It’s a bold choice, I will say that without hesitation.

Night-Moves-015As much as I’m a fan of pretty much whatever Jesse Eisenberg does, it’s still nice to see him mix it up, and boy does he do that here. 90% of his usual quirks are gone, and the end result is a very dark character who you never feel close with. That’s the point too, and Eisenberg does a great job hammering it home. Dakota Fanning has rarely been better than she is here, giving you a look at a much more complex person than you initially think. Fanning really gets to shine in the second half of the movie too. Peter Sarsgaard is a bit looser at times than you’d expect his character to be, but he hits the right notes when it counts, that’s for sure. Sarsgaard isn’t impressing quite as much as Eisenberg or Fanning, but he’s still good here, no doubt about that. Supporting players include Alia Shawkat, but no one really gets much to do except those main three. Even then, it’s really just about Eisenberg and Fanning.

Reichart, along with co-writer Jonathan Raymond, once again takes a slow approach to telling what amounts to a fairly simple story. Their screenplay doesn’t quite have as much meat on its bones as you’d expect, but that’s in keeping with the scripts that Reichart usually works with. Her writing isn’t on the level of her directing once again, but both are certainly solid. My main issue here is with her pacing. At just a bit under two hours, there’s way too much padding, resulting in the urge to look at your watch on more than one occasion. Especially considering where she chooses to end the movie, a fair bit of trimming could have been done for a tighter final cut.

I definitely can recommend Night Moves to you all, but just don’t expect one of her best works, since it’s not. Eisenberg and Fanning are great, though you’ll likely wish the film was a little bit shorter. Perhaps removed from the Tribeca environment that’ll be less of an issue, but for me, it weighed down an otherwise effective story. Give Night Moves a shot later on this year for yourselves and see what you think…

Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!

  • Joey Magidson

    A very slow burn, but one worth watching.