It’s strange that Jesse Eisenberg was ever deemed a substitute Michael Cera, even after The Social Network and Adventureland. (Or maybe because of Adventureland.) Eisenberg’s uneven film choices haven’t helped, but for me he’s emerged ahead of Tom Hanks as the star of the festival.
Kelly Reichardt matches her patient, subtle filmmaking style with Eisenberg’s restlessness, in a role where the well-known fast-talker is kept silent under tense conditions. Under these constraints, he even walks like a great actor. As a frustrated eco-terrorist, the camera stares at his face, leaving his internal monologue to the imagination – and it’s one heck of a speech.
Night Moves is extremely plot-heavy when compared to Old Joy or Wendy and Lucy, yet the first half possesses Reichardt’s trademark elements: anguished lulls in conversation, a wistful soundtrack, and the calming sounds of nature. Eisenberg takes the lead role of Josh, a nervy environmentalist with a similarly nervy environmentalist girlfriend, Dena (Dakota Fanning). The pair hatch a plan to explode a hydroelectric dam, enlisting help from an older expert (Peter Sarsgaard). When Dena expresses reluctance, Josh reminds her that Americans should care more about the environment than “powering their fucking iPod.”
Josh provides most of the momentum, but more through angry impulses than strategic preparation. Subsequently, the trio’s minimal dialogue (partly to avoid detection) is systematic of mutual recklessness; when they’re paddling on a boat loaded with explosives, the symbolism is clear.
Surprisingly, Reichardt turns up the narrative even further in the second half of Night Moves: the plot operates in a steady, mechanical fashion like an unwanted sequel. When I think back to Wendy and Lucy ending after 80 minutes, I wondered why Night Moves couldn’t have done the same. I imagine it’s a way of introducing herself to a mainstream audience, much in the way Brit Marling’s The East was a similarly narrative-driven eco-thriller. But in doing so, some of Reichardt’s individuality is lost in the dam’s explosion.
Night Moves was the London Film Festival’s “Debate” gala screening. More information can be found here.