Kelly Reichardt continues her campaign for the title of “most underrated American indie director” with Night Moves. Not to be confused with the 1975 mystery starring Gene Hackman, Reichardt’s latest highlights the talent for strong, quiet characterizations that has marked her career.
Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network) stars as Josh, an Oregon farmhand consumed with the same nervous rage that has defined 99% of the characters Eisenberg has played thus far. Josh finds himself embroiled in a plot to blow up a dam in an act of eco-terrorism, with the help of an enigmatic rich girl (Dakota Fanning) and an ex-Marine (Peter Sarsgaard).
The three agree to separate after the deed is done, with each member of the trio keeping their true motives—which hang precariously in the air—for bringing down the dam hidden from the others in order to escape future capture. The film is more concerned with showing how the characters grapple with the moral dilemma of the act they’ve committed.
As in her prior films, Reichardt shines a spotlight on fringe members of society, characters who want nothing more than to remain unnoticed by the majority of the outside world. Wendy and Lucy won accolades for its depiction of someone falling short of even a paycheck-to-paycheck living, showing what an emergency can do to someone barely functioning on the poverty line. Meek’s Cutoff managed to make the travails of a group of 19th-century homesteaders relatable for anyone without moorings who is attempting to find a place in the U.S. today.
With Night Moves, we are allowed into a contemporary world of the shunned—those who find themselves without a place to truly call home. Even as the three outlaws find themselves welded into a family unit of sorts, which they have lacked throughout their adult lives, their shared moment of violence has unintended consequences. They join the long list of Reichardt’s characters that don’t make it out of the story on a joyous note, but they are memorable showcases for actors.