There’s something strangely unthrilling about this thriller from low-key US filmmaker Kelly Reichardt (Meeks Cutoff/ Old Joy). Though that’s perhaps not fair, as Night Moves is a thriller that defies thriller conventions – which makes it significantly more interesting. There’s no telegraphing. As you’re watching you see moments that in other hands would’ve been ramped up, milked for their dramatic tension with rousing strings or thumping heartbeat music and one dimensional archetypes. But life is not like that, and neither are Kelly Reichardt’s films. That’s not to say it isn’t stylised, if anything it’s anchored by a sullen somewhat detached performance from Jesse Eisenberg as Josh.
Reichardt does build tension, but it’s in gradual drip-feeding, as the audience begins to piece together an understanding of what is about to happen. A young couple watching environmental advocates debating the best way to combat climate change. Later they buy a speedboat.
Are these events linked? It feels slightly episodic, a series of moments in two peoples lives, yet the tension does slowly ramp up and in the main it’s via the interaction between the three main characters, who quietly go about their preparations, putting an undisclosed plan into action and then attempt to come to terms with the consequences. With the absence of exposition initially we’re forced to analyse the characters reactions and use this to work out how worried we should be.
What’s so refreshing about Reichardt’s films is that she doesn’t moralise or answer self imposed questions, rather she seems to present the action and give the audience the opportunity to use their own preconceptions to make up their mind. This may explain Eisenberg’s stripped down performance, offering us plenty of space to load our own baggage onto him. He’s irrevocably linked to Dakota Fanning’s naïve, though increasingly nervy Dena, united by an act that unravels them. Peter Sarsgaard as former marine Harmone offers a brief relaxed levity, yet this film, which is a curious mixture of darkness and idealism, or perhaps the darkness of idealism, has bigger fish to fry.
To delve any further into the plot would ruin the enjoyment as it slowly unravels. It’s safe to say however that this is perhaps the most action and plot orientated film from Reichardt thus far. This of course is not saying much.