** (out of four)
Kelly Reichardt making a thriller is like Quentin Tarantino making a silent film. To do so, the filmmakers seemingly would have to adjust so much of what makes them work. In Reichardt’s case, the woman behind the wonderful “Wendy and Lucy” and 2010’s strong “Meek’s Cutoff” may need to abandon her patience and tendency to give priority to absorbing environments.
Or maybe she wouldn’t have to change; she just should have. “Night Moves” transposes director/co-writer Reichardt’s traditionally languid pacing onto a story that needs a lot more character development and a simple kick in the pants. Josh (Jesse Eisenberg) and Dena (Dakota Fanning), who lack definition as individuals and a pair, team up with Josh’s former-Marine, ex-cop brother Harmon (Peter Sarsgaard) to blow up a rural Oregon dam. If you’re looking for details about why or how this particular mission was chosen and planned, you’ve come to the wrong place. The film makes brief reference to an environmental agenda and Josh’s frustration with a society willing to kill salmon in order to charge an iPod. But “Night Moves” hardly qualifies as a thorough commentary on environmental destruction and its opponents’ moral dilemma.
Reichardt zeroes in on a couple of lasting images, particularly Josh pushing a dead, pregnant doe off of the road and the characters’ boat (called Night Moves, not a reference to Bob Seger) gliding slowly through a watery graveyard of depleted trees. There’s suspense in moments as simple as Dena negotiating for explosive fertilizer and Josh missing the incriminating mud on his boots.
Also, zzzz. Last year, the under-seen “The East” starred Chicago-area native Brit Marling in a story that weighed extreme reactions to immoral behavior against the harm they prevent. In “Night Moves,” the measured rhythms don’t match the material or lead to complex examinations to fill the space between the film’s few actual events. Eisenberg and Fanning both are miscast; neither gets to play any unique cards about guilt and paranoia. And the supposedly unexpected result of the bombing? It’s pretty expected.
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