Filmmaker Kelly Reichardt’s minimalist films are all shot on location in Oregon. ‘Wendy and Lucy’ deals with a woman’s experiences on the fringe of homelessness and ‘Meek’s Cutoff’ shows the struggle of pioneers crossing the harsh Oregon Trail. Both of these earlier films starred Michelle Williams. Reichardt co-wrote her latest feature ‘Night Moves’ with her frequent screenwriting partner Jonathan Raymond. She comments in a recent interview, “I like films about process and watching people do things, having to do some work.” It’s the actions of the main characters in ‘Night Moves’ that make it so compelling.
The story centers around three young eco-terrorists played equally well by Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning and Peter Sarsgaard. We don’t get a lot of backstory on them. Josh (Eisenberg) works at an organic farm cooperative. Dena (Fanning) works at a new age health spa. They both attend a screening of an environmental documentary. They are both passionate about saving the planet. It turns out there are no simple solutions. With the help of Harmon (Sarsgaard), an off-the-grid ex-military loner, they devise a plan to blow up a dam. Reichardt is meticulous in showing their scheme come to fruition. Josh and Dena purchase a speedboat. Josh sends Dena to convince a guy in a local feed store to sell her hundreds of pounds of explosive ammonium nitrate fertilizer. Audiences will need to show a degree of patience. Reichardt never rushes the story or the explosion of the dam.
It’s not the long-awaited explosion that is the pay off. It’s the consequences of the explosion that make ‘Night Moves’ so powerful. Reichardt gives us characters that we care about even though we don’t condone their actions. She brilliantly uses Oregon’s natural beauty as an allegory throughout this sordid tale. The brilliant cinematography of Christopher Blauvelt (Speed, The Game, The Patriot) gives many of the scenes irony. As they haul the boat toward the lake, we see the beauty of Oregon’s trees filled with multi-colored leaves. Reichardt then cuts to a shot of the boat stuffed with bags of the highly explosive fertilizer. It’s the aftermath of their actions that shifts the mood of the story and changes the characters forever. It moves from suspenseful eco-drama to dark horror story.
Reichardt’s style of filmmaking isn’t for everyone. The actions of her characters speak louder than words. As the three activists execute their plan, we must watch it unfold before our eyes. There is very little narrative. This subdued form of storytelling may be frustrating to some in the audience that like everything explained to them. The sparse dialogue builds the tension. Without giving out any spoilers, the outcome of the trio’s actions is what’s important to observe since it goes far beyond what they had anticipated. Their intentions were honorable but with ghastly consequences. And that’s what Reichardt accomplishes so well. The characters in her films are just one step away from happiness and one step away from tragedy. It is the very reason Reichardt is one of the freshest voices in independent cinema today. Check out the trailer for ‘Night Moves’ http://youtu.be/_LnvgUVz354.
Here is my review of Reichardt’s other independent film ‘Meek’s Cutoff’ shot in Burns, Oregon http://www.examiner.com/review/meek-s-cutoff-movie-review.