Although a working filmmaker since the early 1990s, American director Kelly Reichardt has succeeded in crafting a very particular and singular body of work over much of the last decade, with films such as Old Joy, Wendy And Lucy and her 2010 mainstream breakthrough Meek’s Cutoff, a revisionist, revisionist Western. Having conquered the West, and mastered the languid travelogue, Reichardt now turns her attention to the thriller with Night Moves. A film of two distinctive halves, the first act of Night Moves sees a gang comprised of three plot to, and take out, a dam in a show of ecological protest, while the second portion of the movie deals with the fallout. As with the director’s earlier works performance is key. Here Dakota Fanning, Jesse Eisenberg and an unhinged Peter Sarsgaard trade exchanges, with the three-capable bedfellows and a captivating menagerie.
Plot is ultimately rather light, with the audience not actually afforded the privilege of seeing the much-heralded sequence of drama around which the rest of the film revolves. Similarly to how Alfonso Cuaron built his Gravity, in the way that that film skirts around, and plays with concepts of the set-piece Reichardt here subverts the very idea of the “set-piece”. Unlike that movie, which redefines the set piece in to prolonged theatrical experience, Reichardt actually excises the defining moment of the film from the picture completely. Such an approach could prove hazardous with certain audiences, who might ordinarily expect to see the results of what much of the films running time has built to, but in terms of crafting a moderately unique style of thriller Reichardt succeeds effectively.
The second act, while emotionally fractured, is a streamlined piece of psychological horror. Misty environments are lit accordingly, while paranoia reigns. The spirit of the Hollywood conspiracy thriller is alive and well in the hands of an unlikely figure, with the narrative path taken by one particular character surprising in it’s culmination, but pleasingly convincing en-route. Horror imagery is too present, with one character suffering from a physical reaction to the emotional fallout of the event at the heart of the picture. It’s a satisfyingly cine-literate work, with the heist at the centre of the movie recalling Clouzot and Dassin, and Wages Of Fear and Rififi, while the eventual status of the film is one marked clearly under the header of Hitchcock. And let’s not forget, that the film’s title is a nod to Arthur Penn’s similarly conspiratorial 1975 film of the same name.
Within the text itself Reichardt is critical of the mainstream. In an opening display of antagonism towards mainstream responses to environmental issues her protagonists decry the methods resorted to by the majority, even within what is essentially a niche, concerned sector. This makes for a neat, if not one that is a little convenient point for an observer to read in to as Reichardt’s own thoughts on the cinema of today. While the festival envoronment is one bursting to the brim with singular, unique voices (and having seen films by the likes of Sion Sono and Bruno Dumont within hours of Night Moves) it’s easy to become desensitised to powerful voices in such an environment, such is the wealth of them. That said, within the context of the regular weekend movie trip, it’s works like Reichardt’s that is an invaluable statement against the norm. In Night Moves her film is cast with figures synonymous with the multiplex; Dakota Fanning came to the fore in Steven Spielberg’s War Of The Worlds, and has most recently seen success with the Twilight behemoth, while Jesse Eisenberg is a bona-fide Oscar-nominated actor, and uses them to tell a relatively familiar tale in an contextually obscure way.