Film Review: Night Moves

According to the IMDb plot synposis, Night Moves is “Three radical environmentalists looking to execute the protest of their lives: the explosion of a hydroelectric dam.” And that’s fair, it sums up the story well. If anything it sums up the story too well; the 1500lbs of high explosive do not detonate with a big climatic bang, leaving you shaken, stirred and impressed, whimper in the background while we’re treated to an attempt at character assassination through mental angst.

But that isn’t a bad thing. Everything about the film screams out that it could be good. A dark psychological thriller with a young and upcoming cast of Jesse Eisenberg and Dakota Fanning given the leads to prove themselves but constantly shepherded by Peter Sarsgaard to ensure nothing gets out of hand. There is potential within Night Moves to create a film that packs a serious punch, for a little known gem to immerge, hidden from the prying eyes of the mainstream, but annoyingly it fails to ever ignite.

Peter Sarsgaard - Night Moves

And that overriding sense of a complete lack of spark is really strange, bordering on the inexplicable, because in a bizarre way I liked this film. It’s set up correctly. It knows what it is, a dark thriller, and so the tone, the colour palette, the world in which it exists all feel right, realistic. And because the grass is the right shade of mud and the clothes the wrong shade of torn you buy into it. It’s not a short film, it’s just shy of two-hours long, but I wasn’t bored. And it never dragged, never gave me a chance to mentally wander through the days plans or even just look at the clock. I sat there, simply watching.

That is where my relationship ends though. I was just sitting there watching. Night Moves drops you into a sense of malaise and natural withdrawn gloss. You end up as dead behind the eyes as it is. The story just never goes anywhere, it just ticks along with as single speed metronome. And while that constant, repetition could potentially build and build, driving you deeper and deeper, Night Moves has lost its tick. This film never manages to leap from the screen. It never manages to get inside you head. You never connect to it.

At no point did I really understand the motives or reasons behind their actions. Nothing is ever explained and I never felt I knew the characters. In it’s entire running time, there was only one moment of weak suspense that managed to convey it’s feelings into me; everything else, stuck six feet away inside the screen. You know how they feel, why they feel, what they feel but they never make you feel. It’s just imagery stuck inside the confines of it’s perfect world and that is such a shame.

Snow Globe - Night Moves

It occurred to me that Night Moves is like a shaken snow globe, it’s interesting in the beginning but the longer you give it, the more the flakes settle, the more unsatisfying it becomes as static motion returns. And once you’ve realised that this is the personality of the film the cracks start to appear.

Firstly Eisenberg, while commendable in the lead role, is also the antagonist for most of the problems. I said this film fails to get inside you and it’s Eisenberg who is charged with this task and fails. Which is really strange though, because I kept finding myself in a forgetful state while watching his performance. I knew it was Eisenberg, never once thinking of him as his character Josh, but it didn’t look like Eisenberg. He isn’t the fool from Adventureland or the nerd from The Social Network. The face is constant and familiar, his name printed on your mind throughout, but the eyes never quite accept what the brain is trying to pretend.

Dakota Fanning & Jesse Eisenberg - Night Moves

Secondly, while Dakota Fanning manages to come across well, even though her role not is that important or taxing, and you do start to forget that she’s child star all grown up, but as soon as she combines with Eisenberg they lose all command over the authority and/or maturity that their exploits feel are needed. They look like two school kids, playing a last day prank, just this time it’s with high explosives. They end up turning the story, visually, into an implausible mess that not even Peter Sarsgaard can age back into reality.

Night Moves had real potential on paper, but it just lacks all the power it needs to really work. And with a limp story that is never fully explained, it just left me cold. I don’t hate it, I didn’t enjoy it, but it’s just mute. I also think that for a psychological thriller, watching it only a few days after Whiplash – a thrilling masterpiece in social commentary and psychology – I have can see it’s flaws in even greater detail.

If you haven’t seen it, I really wouldn’t bother. Night Moves, sadly lives just the wrong side of nothing special.

4 out of 10 stars (4 / 10)

Posted on by 5WC in Film First Edition

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