This thriller worth giv­ing a dam about

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ENTERTAINMENT - By Betsy Sharkey

GENRE-BUST­ING Kelly Re­ichardt takes on psy­cho­log­i­cal thrillers in her provoca­tive new drama Night Moves star­ring Jesse Eisen­berg, Dakota Fan­ning, Peter Sars­gaard and the breathtaking beauty of ru­ral Ore­gon. The story, which the di­rec­tor wrote with long­time col­lab­o­ra­tor Jon Ray­mond, is in­ter­ested in the thin line be­tween ac­tivist and ter­ror­ist. What hap­pens when a seem­ingly right­eous op­er­a­tion goes wrong and anx­i­ety threat­ens to over­take ideals? It is the ques­tion Night Moves asks and an­swers in chill­ing ways. The pro­files of the eco-ac­tivists at the movie’s cen­tre and their ef­forts could be ripped from the head­lines. Eisen­berg’s Josh is an or­ganic farmer, part of a co­op­er­a­tive seek­ing to min­i­mize its foot­print on Mother Earth. Fan­ning’s Dena is a dis­en­chanted priv­i­leged young woman in need of a cause. Dena’s cyn­i­cism is smartly laced with philo­soph­i­cal ref­er­ences that make it clear her re­bel­lion has all the right in­tel­lec­tual un­der­pin­nings. Sars­gaard’s ex-Marine Har­mon is a more elu­sive fig­ure, a man in need of a mis­sion and enough of a rene­gade that en­vi­ron­men­tal­ism will do. The is­sue that brings them to­gether is wa­ter. Images of it flow through the film, from its most nat­u­ral state to its many uses and abuses by mankind. A dam is the trio’s tar­get. Bring­ing it down will make a state­ment. The gen­eral pop­u­lace will be shaken into ac­tion. Or so the think­ing goes. Re­ichardt mines the authenticity to cre­ate a ten­sion that is more sub­tle than sen­sa­tional, but no less disturbing, or stom­ach churn­ing for it. As much as the en­vi­ron­ment looms large over Night Moves, this is also an in­ti­mate movie about the deeply per­sonal jour­ney taken by its char­ac­ters. Dena is the linch­pin that is loos­ened just enough to cre­ate many of the moral quan­daries that will drive the film. It is the most adult role Fan­ning has had, and the ac­tress sinks her teeth into it. As the film­maker is wont to do, Re­ichardt lets a sense of place set­tle in be­fore she gets into the heart of the mat­ter. Among the first images we see is the most crit­i­cal body of wa­ter. It lies just un­der­neath the dam. A cou­ple — lovers, per­haps, per­haps not — are on the walk­way above. The scene should be peace­ful. There is no talk­ing, just the am­bi­ent noises of na­ture the film­maker uses so well, though in a far more in­ci­den­tal way than she did in the near silent med­i­ta­tion on the fron­tier in Meek’s Cut­off. Cin­e­matog­ra­pher Chris Blau­velt gives the movie a lush earthy tex­ture with­out over­reach­ing for per­fec­tion. But it is an un­set­tling mo­ment nev­er­the­less. Moody, like Josh, with Eisen­berg do­ing a splen­did job of keep­ing the character, and us, on edge from start to fin­ish. The ac­tor, so good in The So­cial Net­work as Face­book founder Mark Zucker­berg that he earned an Os­car nom­i­na­tion, seems to be get­ting only bet­ter at play­ing mind games. Re­ichardt is good at mind games too. Her por­trait of back­coun­try ac­tivism is con­structed out of im­pres­sions and emo­tions seeded through­out the film: stay­ing just long enough in the farm com­mune kitchen to give us a feel for the less politi­cized eco-con­cerned, the ones whose ac­tions are guided by the do-no­harm prin­ci­ple. It makes Josh’s ag­i­ta­tion more in­ter­est­ing — he’s as much at odds with them as the builders of dams, the ex­ploiters of nat­u­ral re­sources. All the risks of an act of ter­ror­ism are weighed along the way too: The cash-and-barter trade for the nec­es­sary goods. The flaws in the re­con­nais­sance work. The wait­ing for the time to strike. The sec­ond thoughts. The ris­ing anx­i­ety chip­ping away at cer­tainty. When it all goes wrong and the three scat­ter to avoid de­tec­tion, the film hits its stride. How guilt works and whether it is pow­er­ful enough to drive one of them to con­fess is picked apart as Night Moves rides the rip­ple ef­fect of that fear.

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