LFF 2013: ‘Night Moves’ review


Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning and Peter Sarsgaard star in Kelly Reichardt’s Night Moves (2013), an eco-terrorism thriller that, whilst more accessible than her past works, loses none of that distinctive minimalist flare and vigilant style. Josh (Eisenberg) and Dena (Fanning) are a pair of protesters intent of making a difference. Dena works in a spiritual commune whilst Josh lives on a self-sufficient farm, working the land and living on the edges of society. They eventually team up with the volatile Harmon (British actor Savaged, last seen as a tanned lothario in Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine), an ex-marine who shares their environmentalist ideology but is much more of a politicised hardliner.

Together the scheming environmentalists hatch a plan to blow up a local dam in order to make a statement against the US government, whom they believe are ruining the land. However, things don’t go quite as planned and when the inevitable repercussions of their actions comes around, the group find themselves in a taut triangle of paranoia and consumed by a suffocating air of insecurity and corrosive self-doubt. Night Moves is a disquietingly beautiful piece that gently boils over into a far more reflective social study, criticising the tight stranglehold capitalism has on western society and facilitates the myth of American freedom. Reichardt’s past films have often focused upon disparate characters moving from one point to another, and an undeniably contemplative approach is firmly adopted here.

More concerned with the moral grey areas that accompany her character’s movements, Reichardt’s latest maintains an anxious atmosphere of heightened tension and resigned hopelessness that ominously lurks over the horizon like a mist of impending catastrophe. The film’s environmental agenda and on-screen hipster revolution is only the tip of the iceberg as some aggressively expounded ideology force-feeds the audience a barrage of loaded, anti-liberal beliefs. The way Reichardt captures the surrounding bucolic with such grace and majesty means we almost miss her biting swipes at a governmental Panopticon. Yet it’s arguably these subtle remarks that make Night Moves as watchable as it is.

A proud exclamation mark in the ongoing introspective conversation currently ongoing within American indie cinema, Night Moves highlights the need to search beyond the ‘fear of terror’ and discover the roots of national culpability. A powerful addition to America’s counter-culture cinematic movement, Reichardt’s rebel may unfortunately end up getting lost amongst the white noise made by studios attempting to appropriate this reprising sub-genre, with recent efforts such as The East and The Fifth Estate – with their broken moral compasses – diluting the importance of their own messages; a facet that makes Night Moves all the more vital.

The 57th BFI London Film Festival takes place from 9-20 October, 2013. For more of our coverage, follow this link.

Patrick Gamble