'Night Moves' Review: Eco-Terrorists Target Dam, Viewer Apathy

'Night Moves' Review: Eco-Terrorists Target Dam, Viewer Apathy

Hollywood has a hard time judging eco-terrorists.

Recent films like The East and The Company You Keep couldn’t come out and condemn the actions of their die-hard environmentalists. At times, particularly with Robert Redford’s Company, you could feel the storytellers rooting on the eco-terrorists.

Night Moves takes a different approach. It’s both clinical and detached, a portrait of three eco-terrorists with precious little baggage or condemnation. That takes away moral questions, but it still leaves the potential for tension, character studies or simply a police-style procedural.

The film eschews all three, leaving us with a bland experience up until the sudden closing credits.

Jesse Eisenberg and Dakota Fanning play young environmentalists who team with a slightly older man (Peter Sarsgaard) to blow up a local dam. The details aren’t explored. Nor are the back stories behind the main characters, their relationships with each other or the wider movement they may–or may not be–part of.

What we’re left with is watching the mission carried out and the fallout.

Director Kelly Reichardt shows us every mundane step in the process, from acquiring the boat meant to carry the explosive cargo to buying the fertilizer. None of these actions packs visual or narrative punch, and since we don’t get to know the players along the way we’re left to wait .. and wait … until the dam bombing commences.

Perhaps then the film’s motives will become more clear then. If only that were the case.

Reichardt deserves credit for not dumbing down her storytelling. Tiny visual clues mean plenty here, and one must pay attention to every sequence and aside. Yet that effort rarely pays off.

Eisenberg impresses all the same, moving past his standard tics to reveal a deeper sense of suffering. Sarsgaard flashes the kind of charisma to lead such a dangerous mission, but it too often remains muted, another resource conserved for little benefit.

Night Moves suggests a nihilism behind these dreamy eyed enviros, all clad in the Occupy Wall Street Spring collection. That in and of itself can be considered progress, but that’s hardly a consolation given the story’s scant pleasures.