This evening in New York, the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Eugene Hernandez will moderate a discussion with Kelly Reichardt, who’ll show clips from Night Moves, which sees a limited release on Friday. Last fall, we gathered a first round of reviews as they came out of Venice and Toronto. Then, in March, Błażej Hrapkowicz spoke with Reichardt about the film and Jordan Cronk considered its place in her oeuvre. Now we’re going a second round, this time with a trailer and a clip as well.
“To one extent or another,” begins Scott Tobias at the Dissolve, “Kelly Reichardt’s films are about unsettled people contending with nature, whether the outdoors are a pretext for conversation (Old Joy), a temporary bog for the economically desperate (Wendy and Lucy), or a merciless expanse for pioneers seeking a new life (Meek’s Cutoff). For the three environmental activists in Reichardt’s slooooow-burn thriller Night Moves, the world has been hijacked by those who, in the words of one of them, ‘kill salmon so they can run their fucking iPods every second of the day.’ With the planet at the tipping point, ineffectual protests won’t do—it’s time to think globally, act drastically.”
Night Moves “arrives at a time when the threat of terrorism and the politics of fear are no longer top of mind,” suggests Nicolas Rapold in the New York Times. “But its story —about a young man (Jesse Eisenberg) who teams up with a veteran (Peter Sarsgaard) and a recently radicalized colleague (Dakota Fanning) to destroy a dam—joins a potent short list of films about American terrorists…. Night Moves—which looks at the insidious psychological consequences of their attack—is grounded in the detail of its Pacific Northwest milieu. And as Mr. Eisenberg’s character deals with the aftermath of the group’s violent acts, the film, written by Ms. Reichardt and Jonathan Raymond, unfolds beyond the typical debate of condemning or condoning.”
“Fixated on circular rhythms and recurring patterns, the flow of nature and the echo chamber of history, Night Moves is equally focused on the disruption of those cycles, and how such fractures fit within an even broader cyclicality,” writes Jesse Cataldo for Slant. “Entrenched in an of-the-moment world of collective farms, organic produce, and eco-friendly rhetoric, it initially seems set to present a quiet satire of green living, but aside from a few gently sardonic match cuts, Kelly Reichardt’s ambitions are geared less toward humor than observation. A chronicler of the ebb and flow of the American spirit, she digs into the foundations of this modern lifestyle, pushing past surface qualities to analyze the deeper impulse toward independent action, imagining political rebellion as a reflection of emotional unease.”
“As ever, Reichardt handles her leads expertly, ushering them fluidly through a scenario that requires a great deal of physical process and loaded, coded speech,” writes Benjamin Mercer at the L. “As a cocksure ex-Marine, Sarsgaard gives a particularly vivid performance, his entire demeanor well summed up by his aggressively casual posture. Eisenberg (sweating it out under the same blue hoodie for the whole movie) and Fanning (playing a character who at the outset might be an even cooler customer than Sarsgaard’s) come to the fore in the conscience-plagued aftermath of their action at the dam, at which point nerves fray and paranoia mounts.”
Nick Schager for Film Journal International: “While a few sparse conversations articulate the folly of the threesome’s plot to change the world, Night Moves’ critique comes largely through its intense concentration on its characters, whose ignorance and idiocy merely lead them further into a moral abyss from which they can’t escape. Yet far from didactic, Reichardt’s portrait of eco-terrorism makes plain its political positions while simultaneously operating, first and foremost, as a thriller—one whose climax and ensuing, abrupt finale express the impossibility of executing a perfect crime, and the inevitable tragedies that come from any attempts to do so.”
In the Voice, Alan Scherstuhl admires the film’s “quiet patience and formal vigor…. If you pull one shot out from one of her shrewdly constructed sequences, the whole thing would collapse. Moments may take longer to build here than in most films, but once Reichardt has suggested what they’re building to, she cuts away.”
For the New Yorker‘s David Denby, Eisenberg’s “usual persona, a bright urban boy whose mind races ahead of the world, had seemed too good to give up. But Eisenberg is thirty now, and, however self-deprecating in interviews, he’s ambitious, launching himself in many directions: appearing in movies large and small, and writing provocative plays as well as humor pieces for the New Yorker and McSweeney’s. In Night Moves and another new independent film, The Double, he plays not grown men, exactly (it’s still hard to imagine him as a businessman, a father, an adulterer), but young men in transition who are burdened by the need to seize an identity.”
Casey Cipriani talks with Fanning for Indiewire.
Updates, 5/31: “Each of Kelly Reichardt’s films thus far has proven her adeptness at wringing tension out of unexpected situations,” writes Michael Koresky for Reverse Shot. “Think of the weekend sojourn of two aging buddies in Old Joy, their lives diverging in irreconcilable ways, producing simmering resentments; the new-Depression street-survival narrative of Wendy and Lucy; the grim ‘westward ho!’ caravanning in the period drama Meek’s Cutoff. Night Moves is in many ways different, grafting a social critique onto a suspense narrative, rather than the other way around. The film initially seems to cast a wide net, commenting on contemporary mores, but it ultimately settles for being narrower, a portrait of extreme psychosis.”
“Taking its name from the motorboat Josh and Dena purchase for the operation, Reichardt’s film, surely not coincidentally, shares a title with Arthur Penn’s neo-noir from 1975, the earlier feature imbued with a distinct post-Watergate malaise,” writes Melissa Anderson for Artforum. “But another movie from that year, Milestones, Robert Kramer and John Douglas’s epic dirge on the failed dreams of 1960s radicals, would seem to be a lodestar for Reichardt’s project. ‘I think one of the things we figured out was that a revolution was not just a series of incidents but a whole life,’ a character in Milestones says—a rueful statement that the protagonists of Night Moves begin to grapple with too late.”
Salon‘s Andrew O’Hehir finds that “the influence of early Alfred Hitchcock is all over this movie, translated in unusual and original fashion.” At the same time, Night Moves is “still likely to frustrate viewers who want clear answers about what the characters think, what the filmmaker thinks, and what political box (if any) is being checked off here…. Reichardt’s terrifying and ambiguous final scene recalls the paranoid social vision of Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece The Conversation, and suggests that Night Moves is a stealth allegory of life in the surveillance state, where naïve idealism is inexorably transformed into murderous cynicism and every attempt to strike a blow for freedom leads only to enslavement.”
“The film doesn’t, in the end, go quite where you expect it to,” writes Jonathan Romney for Film Comment, “or leave us in a place that we can quite name: the final, enigmatic shot is as close as any recent movie comes to simply tailing off with three dots… Night Moves stages an intelligent debate on activism, radicalism and ethics, but most importantly, it makes the people who perform militant acts very human and very knowable—up to the point at which their essential mystery and unknowability (not least, to each other) becomes the critical issue.”
“There’s a certain muddled ambivalence to the movie,” finds the AV Club‘s A.A. Dowd: “one gets the impression that Reichardt is more interested in these people than their ideas, but she never quite cracks Josh, who’s much more impenetrably aloof than the beleaguered travelers of Meek’s Cutoff, her masterpiece. Night Moves is a portrait of outsiders that leaves its audience on the outside.”
“Still, it is hard to leave the theater unshaken,” writes A.O. Scott in the New York Times, “and hard to shake the memory of Ms. Fanning’s blend of openness and cunning, Mr. Sarsgaard’s bluff nervousness or Mr. Eisenberg’s brooding, inarticulate silence. You may not be able to figure out what Josh, Dena and Harmon really want, but it would be dangerous to ignore them.”
For Henry Stewart, writing at the L, “most of all, it’s a movie about paranoia… It’s a movie full of panic—that someone’s watching, that someone’s coming, that someone knows. This is how Reichardt and Raymond define our present moment: Obama as the new Nixon.”
“Night Moves is one of the most literally dark films you’ll see this year,” notes Brian Tallerico at RogerEbert.com. “It is a film about people who move in darkness, willing to take chances for what they believe but only under cover of night.” And Eat Drink Films has posted takes from Tim Sika and Dennis Harvey.
Update, 6/10: “Night Moves faultlessly strums the tune of crime-film contingency with the same relentless tension of Kubrick’s The Killing, while crucially building on Reichardt’s theme of modern day economic disparity and the problem of progressive ideals at odds with progressive action,” writes Niles Schwartz for L’étoile.
Update, 6/13: “If Kelly Reichardt’s 2011 feature Meek’s Cutoff was an existential Western worthy of Tarkovsky, then her latest, Night Moves, is a muted thriller that aspires to Dostoevsky,” writes Scott Manzler for the Nashville Scene. And “though Night Moves ultimately falls short of Meek’s Cutoff or the director’s 2008 sketch of economic disenfranchisement Wendy and Lucy, it’s the more ambitious effort. And if a guiding undercurrent of her latest is the need to balance personal ideals with ongoing realities, then a broader canvas and more engaging narrative qualify as artistic progress.”
Updates, 6/14: “The totality of the director’s intentions are present throughout,” writes Peter Labuza, “especially during an early sequence when Josh and Dena (Dakota Fanning) meet up with their fellow conspirator Harlon (Peter Saarsgard) at a local diner. Each can’t trust the other, raising issues to each other about the loyalty of the other to the mission. These people are looking inward, not outward, and Reichardt always positions one against two within the frame.”
“Radicals can be stupid, but radicalism is not stupid, is one of the takeaways,” suggests Ray Pride at Newcity Film. “Like a 1970s Hollywood Renaissance paranoid thriller, and stoked by a debate that eludes consensus, Night Moves has an ending of confident ambiguity.”