Director Kelly Reichardt delivers an intriguing ecoterrorism thriller with Night Moves. Josh (Jesse Eisenberg), Dena (Dakota Fanning), and Harmon (Peter Sarsgaard) are done protesting. They are ready to make, not just a statement, but a strong statement. They chose to blow up a dam.
The film’s first movement follows trio pull off elaborate con acts to acquire the materials needed to fulfill the plan. The second movement unfolds the carrying out of the event and the following ramifications. The third, and final, movement of the film chronicles the down fall of Josh.
The portrayal of Josh is not what we typically see from Eisenberg. It is a darker side. He is deliberate in his choices and actions, even when he is not aware of it. He is skittish as he crosses over the line of good and evil. But, in the third movement, the line seems to no longer exist. It does make Eisenberg more appealing as Lex Luthor in the upcoming Batman v. Superman film.
The movements, under Reichardt’s direction, builds the right amount of tension out of seemingly minor and insignificant moments in the plot. Many of these moments are unexpected. Just when you think you have figured out what direction Reichardt is going, you are proven wrong. For example, when Josh and Dena purchase a boat, Josh goes inside the stranger’s house to use the bathroom. You expect Josh, because of the tension that is building, to steal something from the house. But he does not.
The third movement includes a key scene (I promise, no spoiler). In a series of close-up shots of eyes and feet, Reichardt uses a technique she is known for. Something major (thus important) is happening, and is being done off screen. As the viewer, you only have eyes and feet to gauge that action. This will truly frustrate some movie goers, but it is the kind of direction that leaves the story open-ended for the viewer to fill in the gaps. Reichardt doesn’t attempt to give a happy ending, nor does she try to tell us what we should think of Josh. She leaves it completely up to us.
The film is filled with a series of monologues that, at times, are just political rants. Some of these monologues and dialogues at first seem pointless, as if they are just taking up screen time. But, after a second viewing, you come to realize that these seemingly minor conversations are actually plot-moving techniques. While the rants have environmental messages, at times they are just too much. And the action that the three main characters choose is not, as Josh’s dad points out at breakfast the morning after, enough to make a real difference.
It is the dilemma of young people of every generation. How do we make a difference? From the open square of Cairo to the streets of Ferguson, young people have been gathering trying to make a difference. At times their voices are heard and change is possible. At other times, actions are decided and change seems so very far away. This is the tension of social justice and charity. What will really make a difference?
We volunteer to make a dent in the social problems we see around us. But we also need to get involved by supporting the organizations that work tirelessly every day to meet these needs; by continuing to volunteer; by making donations; and by writing or emailing elected officials. And these are just a few ways. There are so many more, but the thing to remember is that change is not easy. One bomb, one letter, one day volunteering is not going to be enough. The work of social justice is persistent work. As the prophet Micah says:
He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God? (6:8)
Social change is not easy. We are called to do justice, love kindness, and to walk humbly with God. This takes dedication and persistence. It also means, as John Wesley would teach, that we do no harm, do good, and stay in love with God.