In her latest, America’s ‘”film-maker poet laureate” Kelly Reichardt is – oh no! – having a go at ecowarriors. “We had to put our own political agendas aside and hunker down,” she tells Tara Brady
In the new film Night Moves, three Oregon-based eco-warriors, as essayed by Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning and Peter Sarsgaard, watch anxiously from a small boat, as a car pulls up. The triumvirate of activists have just planted a bomb under a landscape-destroying dam. But they hadn’t counted on fatalities. Should they return to the scene of the crime and disarm the explosive? Or should they chalk it up as collateral damage?
There’s nothing like an unexploded bomb to keep an audience in palpations. But it is an unexpected device – in every sense – to find in a Kelly Reichardt picture. Does she has a favourite use of the trope? “It has to be Battle of Algiers,” she says. “It’s all about the details. You don’t remember the explosion. You remember her little foot pushing the bag under the chair.”
Details matter for Reichardt. Over the past 10 years, she has established herself as America’s foremost practitioner of slow cinema. Her work is far more redolent of Iranian or Turk- ish arthouse, than of any of her compatriots’ output.
“I do love Iranian and Turkish films,” says Reichardt. “It’s just a pace I can relate to. I don’t consider what I’m doing to be slow cinema. But I consider a lot of new films too fast for me. I want to sink in to things. And I always think: ‘can’t you just trust me as an adult? Can’t you stop waving in my face to keep me entertained?’ So I treat my audience the way I want to be treated.”
In this spirit, Reichardt consistently deconstructs genre and audience expectations: Old Joy is an alt-country ballad riposte to the men-children who populate the Apatow bromance milieu. Meek’s Cutoff pares back the western to its most arid and tactile. Wendy and Lucy is a stalled road trip featuring only a girl and her dog. The films have all been critically lauded, have played at Sundance, Venice and Berlin, and won hatfuls of awards. Reichardt herself has received a Guggenheim Fellowship and is an artist-in-residence at New York’s Bard College.
In theory, Night Moves, a political thriller, ought to be the director’s most mainstream offering to date. In practice, it’s a thornier prospect. The new film’s characters, despite good intentions, are a ghastly bunch: Sarsgaard’s H isn’t nearly as smart as he maintains, Fanning’s convictions are shaky and funded by her wealthy parents, Eisenberg’s Josh is as cold-blooded as he is self-interested.
I have a theory. Does Josh lose his mind as the picture goes on, I wonder? Is he really conversing with H or is it all in his head?
“That’s an interesting idea,” laughs Reichardt. “But I don’t think of Josh as having that much of an imagination. He’s kind of this super fundamentalist. But a fundamentalist on the left. He has an overarching confidence in his ideology and his decision making and in his take on things. He doesn’t think beyond that.”
Reichardt has a reputation as an actor’s director, who has coaxed career best performances from Michelle Williams, Will Oldham, and Zoe Kazan. The process of directing Jesse Eisenberg was a little more collaborative, she says. In or- der to get into character the actor moved into the Portland farming cooperative depicted in the film.
“He will ask you more questions than you could imagine,” says the director. “Jon Raymond, my writing partner, and I went out to the farm, which is owned by friends of ours, to see Jesse. We all went to an activist meeting together and we incorporated some ideas Jesse had. That’s not normal for us. We like to stick to the script. But process never stops for him.”
Reichardt’s fifth feature has not necessarily
Left to their own device: Dakota Fanning and Jesse Eisenberg in Night Moves. Below: Fanning and Eisenberg with director Kelly Reichardt