Thursday, May 29, 2014

With NIGHT MOVES, Kelly Reichardt attempts a modern-day version of Crime and Punishment

With her new environmental-activist-or-is-it-eco-terrorist film, NIGHT MOVES, critical darling Kelly Reichardt has also given us a movie that can't help but hark back to the likes of Dostoyevsky and his Crime and Punshment. One of its stars, in fact, the ubiquitous Jesse Eisenberg, would make a great Raskolnikov (except that he's now already played him in this film). Reichardt's latest involves a plot to bomb a local dam (which we learn early on, so it's not much of a spoiler), its execution & aftermath.

Ms Reichardt (shown at right) -- who directs and sometimes, as here, co-writes with Jonathan Raymond -- continues to adhere to her slow-moving, minimalist, slight-on-the-exposition screenplay and direction. This has its merits (few of us seem to love heavy exposition) and its problems (it can lengthen a film, as here, past the point of what its content will bear). We learn only the barest minimum about any of our three bombers -- Eisenberg's character (below, left) is joined by a young woman (Dakota Fanning, center) and older man (Peter Sarsgaard, right).

A dribble of character info appears now and then -- she's maybe from a rich family, the older guy's a veteran -- but almost nothing about our lead character, played by Eisenberg, below, who begins the film glum and ends it even glummer.

Who is actually in charge here? We never learn this, though none of our three seem particularly bright or gifted in the eco-terrorism game. The Sarsgaard character, in particular, is constantly being proved wrong about stuff small and large, while Fanning's girl, below, though believing in crystals and other new-agey blather, seems to be the most direct, capable and action-oriented of the three.

Most surprisingly, no one appears to have considered the possibility of their act's having unintended consequences. Well, they're young and dumb, I suppose. But in terms of character, action and politics (the movie may appear apolitical, but it's all there, woven into the fabric of the story), there is finally so little on offer that you really must suspend your disbelief after awhile to tolerate the plot machinations.

That said, Reichardt does give us a suspenseful build-up to the bombing, even if the film is far too slow to qualify as a thriller. (Her most successful movie so far would be Wendy & Lucy, in which she wraps politics, economics, character, storytelling and our larger society into a moving and believable film.)

The scenes of "communal life" also seem a little deadening, unless that's the point the filmmaker hopes to bring home about folk who live outside the mainstream (I wouldn't imagine this to be her goal). But then, literally everyone/thing in this movie -- including the scenery -- seems inordinately glum.

The title of Night Moves -- not to be confused with the 1975 Arthur Penn film starring Gene Hackman --does double duty as a description of the goings-on and the name of the boat used to bomb the dam, arrives in New York City this Friday, May 30, from Cinedigm, where it will play the Angelika Film Center. In Los Angeles, look for it on June 6th at Laemmle's Noho 7.

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