Of the critically acclaimed American directors, there isn’t one more divisive than Kelly Reichardt. Since 2006’s Old Joy, Reichardt has made a string of films that have – largely – garnered her raves, including two pictures with Michelle Williams that displayed the great actresses knack for inner anguish.
This use of the all things inner is part of the turnoff for those outside of the Reichardt fan-club. Where one might see a methodical, deliberately paced slice off filmmaking, others find a boring slog that doesn’t know when to cut.
I’m the community of supporters, feeling especially fond of the two Williams outings. Reichardt’s latest quietly hit theatres at the beginning of the summer. The film is Night Moves, a thriller – of sorts – about three environmentalists that team-up to destroy a hydroelectric dam. There’s Josh (Jesse Eisenberg), a quiet and determined soul that doesn’t like a fuss. Secondly is Dena (Dakota Fanning), a friend of Josh’s who comes from privilege and longs to do something worthwhile. Finally we have Harmon (Peter Sarsgaard), an ex-military man with knowledge of explosives, not to mention some other shady skeletons in his closet.
As is her move, Reichardt doesn’t rush through her tale. Her movies have never been pushed forward via intricate narrative beats, instead opting to reside in the silence of the uncomfortable. As Meek’s Cutoff was an anti-western, lounging amidst the crushing cruelty of endless plains and the danger of merely trying to live in the old west, Night Moves is about the hardships of being inconspicuous while breaking the law. She digs into what it’s like to be a criminal strategizing how to be inconspicuous. Early in the film, Dena goes to purchase a large amount of fertilizer and tries to be ordinary. She wants to hide her face from the security cameras, just not in a suspicious manner. When told she needs extra identification to purchase the requested amount, Reichardt and co-writer Jonathan Raymond crank up the tension via logic. Is it best for Dena not to return at all? Should she rush back and say she’ll buy it elsewhere? Did she make to big of a fuss about the purchase already? It’s all about not leaving a trail.
Night Moves refrains from playing its hand too frankly. The trio run into problems. They don’t run into anything like Josh stumbling into an ex-girlfriend as he’s prepping the explosives or getting a flat tire while making a getaway. Reichardt lets the natural progression of paranoia, distrust and guilt consume her characters, making for compelling drama.