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Night Moves

Kelly Reichardt is an exceptional filmmaker, who chooses to eschew traditional methods of pacing and denouement. I dig that…but mainstream audiences usually don’t. Movies with finales that simply “stop on a dime”? It’s a very European cinematic conceit, and it takes some getting used to…for the uninitiated. That being said, “Night Moves”(not to be confused with the 1975 Gene Hackman starrer, of the same name), is easily the fastest paced and most conventional feature of Ms. Reichardt’s career. So, bear that in mind before queueing the glacial, but fascinating, “Meek’s Cutoff”, from 2011. Kelly’s filmography requires patience and maturity, but the payoffs are often plentiful. Hey, she’s an acquired taste, okay? But so is caviar and champagne. Full disclosure: I’m a devoted fan of both fish eggs and sparkling wine.

Josh(Jesse Eisenberg), Dena(Dakota Fanning), and Harmon(Peter Sarsgaard)are concerned, but extremely radical environmentalists. They all live in separate locations in the same idyllic Oregon area, and the trio is determined to protect the fragile mountainous, tree-laden landscape. So, with ample cash stealthily siphoned from Dena’s well-to-do Dad, they purchase a used motorboat, fill it with explosive fertilizer, and conspire to blow up a local dam. But roadblocks and diversions occur from the get-go. And the secrecy and timing of their mission is threatened more than once. When they finally do pull it off, the team faces the horror of a missing local man—who may have accidentally been caught in the aftermath of the blast. Facing the reality of jail time for a Federal crime if found out, all of them wrestle with results of their deed in disparate ways. And trust and fidelity quickly take a backseat to self-preservation.

There’s an unfortunate choice made, approaching “Night Moves” finale, that gave me pause, and ultimately pushes me to give this film a slightly lower rating. Until then, however, I was completely enthralled, and extremely impressed with its talented principal cast. Mr. Eisenberg’s dry, often humorless, style, is a nice fit for the role of Josh, and Jesse is excellent at walking his character’s subtle arc. Young Ms. Fanning is intelligent and believable, as the spoiled, but devoted Dena. And Mr. Sarsgaard brings just the right amount of sinister undercurrent to his portrayal of Harmon. It’s a measured and thoughtful screenplay from Ms. Reichardt and Jonathan Raymond…at least until that one misstep. And there’s an awesome cameo, from indie film royalty, James LeGros. “Night Moves” possesses the power to hypnotize and is gorgeous to look at. Buck the norm, and give it a try.

Grade:  B+

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