Angered by the damage we are doing to our planet, yet weary with well-meaning but vapid protest through low budget films, a group of environmental activists decide to take a more visceral stand that will make a real bang. A bang so big it will blow up a dam.
Kelly Reichardt’s Night Moves pitches itself somewhere between an environmental polemic and loosely labelled thriller as three radicals come together to execute an act of ‘eco-terrorism’. Stern-faced Josh (Jesse Eisenberg) and waiflike Dena (Dakota Fanning) head for the hills to meet ex-marine Harmon (Peter Sarsgaard), the man with the plan as to how they can turn their extortionately priced boat, the eponymous Night Moves, into a vessel of destruction to make their political splash.
Set in the beautiful surroundings of Oregon, Night Moves is admittedly a beautifully shot film, juxtaposing the peace and tranquillity of nature with the building tension the three activists face as the days go by. While their mission goes to plan, what happens next focuses on the paranoid aftermath into which the three descend on discovering some unexpected consequences of their attack.
After going their separate ways and agreeing to never speak again, contact soon becomes necessary when loose-cannon Dena becomes a possible liability to the group’s anonymity and safety as the media attention increases. And therein lies the ‘thriller’ aspect of the plot – unfortunately this only comes into play in the latter third of the film, with the most part dedicated to the planning and execution of the bomb.
For me, it is the aftermath of political activism and the effect it has on its instigators that is of interest and by seemingly tacking this on the end I found myself wishing we could rewind and refocus our attention on what happened directly after rather than the intricacies of filling a boat with explosives.
Watching Night Moves in light of Chloe Ruthven’s documentary The Do Gooders, on the damage of foreign aid and volunteer work, I couldn’t help but recognise a few similarities in theme. Josh, Dena and Harmon believe they are doing good, making a statement that will incite change. The reality, however, as astutely pointed out by one of Josh’s commune friends, is that their act is simply theatre, a pointless performance for the media that will do more harm than good for their cause – something the group must learn the hard way.
Night Moves is screening on 15, 16 and 17 October at various locations.
The 57th BFI London Film Festival, in partnership with American Express, takes place until 20 October 2013. View the programme online: www.bfi.org.uk/lff