By Darin Skaggs
Heists take planning, so do murders and setting off a bomb. Well it takes planning if you want to do it right and not get caught. You have to go through every step over and over and think of every outcome for every situation. Films mostly skip over this phase and get right to the action. In Kelly Reichardt’s Night Moves she shows us everything; the planning, the deed and then the aftermath. For this it becomes one of the tensest and quiet thrillers of the year.
Night Moves stars Jesse Eissenberg, Dakota Fanning and Peter Skarsgard as Josh, Dena and Harmon respectively. They plan to blow a hole in a local dam as a protest for the environment. In the first half of the film we see them plan for this act. It shows every detail like getting fake IDs and buying the material that makes the explosives. All these scenes are fairly tense. You want these three to succeed in their mission even though what they are doing is illegal and you may not be fully on board with what they are doing. That is due to the script and performances making us not like the characters, but believe that they exist.
The focus of the defiant act is barely touched upon. It is a very effective scene with not everything going their way but they do succeed. The film is not interested in that part, it is more interested in the nervousness before and the toll it takes on our characters after the fact. When they part from the situation they lay low for a while. We follow Josh for most of the movie after and through him we learn a camper was killed in the blowing up of the dam. Josh, who keeps to himself, gets more and more paranoid about somehow getting caught. His paranoia excels until he finally explodes in rage.
This is a great look at how protesting and doing a grand exploit is not always the answer. It says if you try to make a statement it will probably affect someone else negatively. The ending even suggest that if you don’t take the fall for your mistakes during that time you are no better than whom you are protesting against. The first half also suggest that you will not know what to do in every situation and that you cannot control every situation no matter how much planning you do.
The film has a gritty look to it. The cinematography is always a little dimmer than the world we live in. It helps as well that most of the scenes take place during the nighttime. Even little choices that are made set the dark tone of the film, all the characters are wearing two coats or more at one time. This gives the film a cold feeling both emotionally and psychically. The note it ends on, even though one of the brightest lit scenes, is more dark and worrisome for our protagonist than anything that has come before.