Tribeca coverage with Glenn on the latest from Kelly Reichardt (Meek's Cutoff, Wendy & Lucy)
“Reserved, even by Kelly Reichardt’s standards.” That was the line I used to describe this Portland director’s latest, Night Moves, after its screening at Tribeca. Having premiered at last year’s Venice Film Festival, it’s understandable that it didn’t make all that much noise in the intermediate months given it’s such a quiet, guarded film despite its eco-thriller roots and name cast that includes Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning and Peter Sarsgaard. Like all of Reichardt’s films, however, it is that very low-key ingredient that makes it memorable. While it doesn’t soar to the breathtaking heights of Meek’s Cutoff, which just like Night Moves took a genre prone to testosterone-filled violence and twisted it into a elegant mood piece, her latest is a surprisingly thrilling experience even when its director seems to be actively trying to go against those genre instincts.
Eisenberg and Fanning star as Josh and Dena, young environmental activists with an unclear history. He works at an organic farm while she works at a women’s retreat and spa while attending meetings big on ideas but low on execution. Despite not being terribly friendly to one another they are off purchasing a boat and joining Sarsgaard’s Harmon in a location out of the city. The three plan on blowing up a dam that was built to allow people to “play their iPods non-stop” and killed native species in the process. They are environmentalists, but others will call them terrorists. In fact, one of the very best moments in the film is a lingering shot of an armed police guard at a rural farmer’s market. Society has always looked upon the environmentally conscious with a suspicious unease – consider why green political parties can never truly rise up against their more capitalist competition despite most people agreeing that two party systems are corrupt and terrible either way you cut it. Maybe that’s just me getting carried away, however.
What I found so interesting about Night Moves is the way Reichardt handles the thriller elements. She uses silence and performance to spike tension. An extended scene where Dena purchases fertilizer, using her baby-faced (how does she now look younger than her sister Elle?) to manipulate and disarm the garden store employees, casually throwing in a blunt-forced nudge to the sexism that is still alive and well – “You’d sell it to me if I looked like those guys.” She allows her actors faces to guide the audience. When the detonation occurs, her camera remains tightly focused on Eisenberg, Fanning and Sarsgaard; their reactions being the audience trigger rather than overbearing orchestral demonstrations and pyrotechnics.
This take on the material is to be expected from, say, a film about a woman and her dog or a desolate Oregon Trail western, but I imagine many audiences will bump heads with the way she handles it here. It reminded me a lot of Gus Van Sant’s Paranoid Park, choosing to take a somewhat impressionistic approach rather than the sensationalist one that the material could typically result in. I appreciate that and these are always the type of films that tend to stick in my head longer than, say, Zal Batmanglij’s The East from last year. I didn’t too much like the way Fanning’s character devolved, especially given the way the screenplay by Reichardt and Jonathan Raymond had developed the feminine elements of the story, but even then the keen eye of Reichardt and cinematographer Christopher Blauvelt allow for an overcast beauty throughout.
There’s little here that Reichardt non-devotees will find to sway them, but for me she remains a brilliantly talented name in modern film. I would easily rank her alongside the likes of Aaron Katz (whose Land Ho I reviewed at Sundance and is also playing at Tribeca) and Sofia Coppola as one of the most interesting American voices working in today. Night Moves is reserved, but is grounded in a reality that is more thrilling than most of what Hollywood throws our way.