Writer-director Kelly Reichardt’s work walks a treacherous tightrope: her style is so remote, low-key and observational that the films rely to a large extent on performance to provide emotional weight. So far this technique has paid off, particularly with the devastating ‘Wendy and Lucy’, in which Michelle Williams delivered a harrowing portrait of a woman on the edge of society and sanity. But what happens when there’s no sympathetic central character to root for?
Reichardt’s new film ‘Night Moves’ provides the answer, and it’s a frankly disappointing one. Jesse Eisenberg plays Josh, a dour, self-absorbed eco-warrior who, with his compatriots Dena (Dakota Fanning) and Harmon (Peter Sarsgaard) is intent on blowing up a local dam. But when the crime has unexpected consequences, all three are forced to question their principles.
As a procedural study, ‘Night Moves’ is undeniably effective: the buildup is slow, painstaking and intense, the fallout inevitable but still shocking. As an exploration of how these self-proclaimed moral arbiters live with the consequences of their actions it is, like all of Reichardt’s work, scalpel-sharp in its observations. But the soul is somehow missing: Josh is simply too brittle and remote a central character to empathise with, and as the noose tightens it becomes increasingly hard to care what he thinks, says or does.