Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 52 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for some Language and Nudity
Directed by: Kelly Reichardt
Written by: Jonathan Raymond & Kelly Reichardt
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning & Peter Sarsgaard
Upon reading a brief description of NIGHT MOVES, I was instantly reminded of an impressive eco-thriller from last year. My thinking was sort of in the right direction for the first half of the movie. It’s in the second half that the plot ultimately goes into more familiar (therefore more predictable) material. Consequently, it loses steam, interest, and the sense of purpose that had built the audience up. NIGHT MOVES betrays the viewer in a total anti-climactic conclusion that neglects everything that was working so well in the first place. I didn’t need to be surprised by NIGHT MOVES. My expectations were at a reasonable level walking in. This film is completely forgettable. I found myself caring less about NIGHT MOVES in the hours that passed after viewing the dull downward spiral that encompasses the second half and drags the entire film down.
Josh, Dena, and Harmon are three activists following through on a plot to blow up a damn. It could be said that this radical move of eco-terrorism is making a statement about the decline of a healthy environment. The act is carefully planned, but certain mistakes can easily be made. Not everything might go according to plan and it doesn’t. Complications ensue that have dire consequences for the three in their individual lives on different levels of severity. That’s all I can really say without giving away some major spoilers, because I found the first half of this film to be a tense-as-hell thriller. I was glued to the screen and that makes the lackluster decline that much more disappointing in the second half.
The cast of NIGHT MOVES is exquisite. Jesse Eisenberg takes center stage and little details are slowly revealed about him that I appreciated. He’s a capable actor. It also helps that his character constantly kept me on my toes on what kind of person he really is. Dakota Fanning is Dena and though I felt her character was a tad underdeveloped, she does a great job with the material given. Finally, Peter Sarsgaard plays the best character in the film and steals every scene he’s in. Sarsgaard’s on-screen appearance turns into a mere voice on the phone for the lackluster latter portion.
In its initial set-up, NIGHT MOVES shows a lot of promise. We aren’t given a lot of specifics about each character and it leaves them as a bit of a mystery. I found myself debating on who I cared for the most, if I cared for any of them at all. As the film goes forward, little details surface. It becomes apparent that even if the trio share a common interest (the destruction of the dam), this is a mismatched group. This element should have led to the most exciting part of the film and it winds up going into a been-there done-that scenario that doesn’t pay off. It’s especially disappointing given the superb suspense on display in the first half. I was holding my breath multiple times as the trio encountered some unexpected difficulties among themselves and outside forces. Then the movie just sort of loses everything that was working so well.
After a crafty little reveal that opened up the door for countless directions to go in, director/co-writer Kelly Reichardt sticks to a dull path and slows the movement down to a snail’s pace. It’s not as if the film was extremely fast-paced to begin with, but there was some sustainable tension to keep the viewer wondering what might happen next. If you haven’t guessed where things might be heading after the reveal is made, then you probably haven’t seen many thrillers in your life. To make matters even worse, the ending just kind of gives up. It’s as if the script was building towards one last interesting direction in order to possibly save face for the dull patch of movie and the director said “We’re already at nearly two hours, so let’s just end it here.” This conclusion is as jarring as it sounds.
NIGHT MOVES is beautifully shot and has atmospheric locations. The script tries to make some points about industrialism and the darker side of human nature. The first half is just damn near masterful in bringing a high level of tension and a mysterious layer to everything. In the second half, everything falls apart. It’s not as if the movie is an outright failure, but I really didn’t care about it when it was over. It’s totally middle of the road. NIGHT MOVES is the kind of film that I’ll only think about in the frame of mind that says “That movie exists and I’m moving on to something else now.” Disappointing (especially given how incredible the build-up was) and completely forgettable are descriptions that suit this film just fine. Kind of like the movie itself. I’m just going to shrug and just sort of end this review on an anti-climactic note.