Sunday, June 08, 2014

"Night Moves": a character study of three "eco-terrorist" radicals living in an intentional community in Oregon

Kelly Reichardt has given us another look at the lives of ordinary rural people in the Pacofoc Northwest with “Night Moves”.  This time, she presents what looks like an intentional community somewhere near Bend, Oregon (named Siskiyou, which is also the name of a county in northern CA) .  Three activists in the commune decide blow up a hydroelectric dam as an eco-terror protest.  And there will be tragic consequences. The title of the movie is the name of a used boat that one of the radicals obtains under false pretenses. 

Jesse Eisenberg plays Josh, the centerpiece of action.  The actor is known for his work with homeless animals in real life, and some of that comes across here.  Early, he puts a bird’s nest in the right place, and stops his truck to help a fallen pregnant doe by the road.  The camera often dawdles on his face (a good reason for the director to stay with standard aspect ratio and not Cinemascope, to get that Hitchcock effect), and his dialogue is soft-spoken.  He has good street smarts, as anyone living in that environment must have.  Still, his actions after the tragedy, leading to the deception at the very end, don’t seem credible.  Apparently Josh was “hired” by the collective, but actually communities like this screen people with trial periods living there. 

The other two principals are Josh’s girl friend Dena (Dakota Fanning) who is quite self-righteously radical (rather like someone from the People’s Party back in the 1970s), and the ex-con Harmon (Peter Sarsgaard), who helps give the impetus for the act.  There’s a scene early on where Dena tries to buy ammonium nitrate from an industrial store and doesn’t have her social security card for ID.  The film, after a protracted dialogue (yes, people in these communities really do have to fuss about how they grow their vegetables), presents a less than convincing resolution to her crisis. Really, why wouldn't sodium nitrate do as well, for legitimate purposes?  It would.  Dena seems to have an unexplained rash around her neck, looking almost like lupus. 

The film, however, with its quiet buildup, keeps you engaged, particularly at Josh’s desperation.  (He’s poor enough not to have Internet on his cell phone and to need to use the public library – where “it’s free” -- to find out what really happened after the explosion.)   Earlier, by the way, there is a humorous allusion to the reach of the NSA when Harmon says to stay off the phone,  But Josh's actions toward the end I find hard to believe. The ID theft scheme can't possibly work.  Jesse Eisenberg just portrays too gentle a soul.  Even one of the residents Dylan (Logan Miller) seems more aggressive, maybe.

Cinedigm’s site and press release for the film is here. Cinedigm seems to like edgy films. Reichardt is known for "Old Joy" (Dec 4, 2011 here). 
I’ve been in that specific area of Oregon once, in 1978.  But I’ve visited a couple of intentional communities before, including Lama in New Mexico (visits in 1980 and 1984), and Twin Oaks in Virginia (a one-afternoon tour in April 2012).

 I saw this film at the Angelika Mosaic in Merrifield VA Sunday night before a fair crowd.  One female moviegoer thought that the film fed into the Tea Party's hands and gave environmentalists a bad rap. 

Wikipedia attribution link for lake in Bend Oregon 

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