Tyneside Cinema, Newcastle
15th September 2014
Night Moves on the Tyneside Cinema website
Just listen to that title. Night Moves. It sounds like a forgotten X-Men spin-off that we really want to see. However, in reality, it’s Meek’s Cutoff director Kelly Reichardt’s new film, concerning the slow but stealthy ‘night movements’ of a small cell of eco-terrorists aiming to blow a hole in a rural dam. The plot’s closest cousin is Four Lions (oddly) but Reichardt’s signature style is that of a calculating surgeon, removing any fast pace and transplanting a vicious slow-burn gland. The effects are as good as they are bad.
Reichardt’s screenplay (co-written by regular collaborator Jonathan Raymond) is seemingly intent on displaying every painstaking detail of the destructive scheme and the first act often plods because of this. I see what Reichardt is trying to do here: she’s trying to shoot a thriller as a drama. The ambition is there and it’s bold but ultimately inert. Underneath all the ponderousness is a tight, subtle message involving the terrorists’ own hypocrisy but it’s buried as deep as rubbish in a landfill site. I doubt it’s a mistake by Reichardt to suffocate the pacing as much as she does, as it feels positively deliberate. At times (especially during a terrific centrepiece involving the plan being executed), the attention-to-detail is a fantastic tension device but when there’s nothing of interest happening, Night Moves is a painful watch.
The pacing might not be for everyone but one inescapable fact is that the performances are ace. Jesse Eisenberg continues his unbroken winning streak in his most understated work yet and it works a charm. A steaming pot of pent-up anger and a hollow shell of a man, he does wonders with the restrained screenplay that risks dullness frequently. Dakota Fanning provides excellent support, while an underused Peter Sarsgaard is a lovely counterbalance to Eisenberg’s tension-ridden work.
Reichardt’s film relies on its performances to come to life and often employs the opposite of visual trickery to perk up the audience’s interest and intrigue. Save a neat closing shot and an unsettling sauna-based climax, Night Moves is disappointingly dull visually and structurally. Seemingly only for Reichardt fans (her other films seem to evoke the same mood and speed), it’s a testing film that works your patience and doesn’t entirely reward it.