‘Night Moves’: Trying to Make Some Front-Page Drive-in News

May 30, 2014 Updated: June 2, 2014

Pre-rap Nuyorican poet Gil Scott Heron said in 1971, “The Revolution will not be televised.” The fact that happening-right-now global revolutions arrive via our Facebook feed rather than the TV, proves Gil Scott was a prophet. 

Kelly Reichardt’s new eco-terrorist thriller, “Night Moves,” takes a look at some eco-revolutionary issues, tactics, and raises some questions. And the moral of the story is: think small.

Dena (Dakota Fanning) and Josh (Jesse Eisenberg) nose around a massive hydroelectric Green Peter Dam sluice gate in Oregon. She notes there are no fish ladders. 

Josh is hired help at an organic farm. Redheaded Dena’s a Connecticut-to-Pacific-Northwest refugee Trust-afarian. She works at a nature spa, with wafting Indian flute music and sauna steam. 

Josh is a sensitive fellow; he puts bird nests back in trees, exits his Ford truck to remove a pregnant road-kill deer, agonizing that “The baby’s still alive in there.” He also says (of the dam), “It’s killing all the salmon so we can run our iPods.” 

Josh and Dena attend a documentary screening. In the Q&A, the filmmaker hails a green revolution. “What do you think we should do?” asks a student. The filmmaker replies, “One big thing is not good. Lots of little things are good.” 

Oklahoma City Redux

But our two eco-heroes are clearly already up to something big. They meet up with Harmon, Josh’s activist buddy. Harmonis an ex-Marine and apparently an explosives expert (Peter Sarsgaard, always at his edgy best in full-bearded mode). The dam keeps coming up in conversations.

Dena trust-fund bankrolls a $10,000 used speedboat. They trade 20-something Pacific-Northwest eco-hippie gossip, “Last I heard, Randy was squatting in Eagle Creek.” Dena waxes academic, stating that once the marine bio-diversity goes, everything goes. They talk about the hydro dam. “Twenty-nine golf courses have sprung up in the high plains desert. Where’s the water coming from?” 

Harmon speaks in the unctuous, sensual way of Gaia-activists (with prior arrests). He paints the dam as a woman, “All that water pushing up against her walls, she wants to let go, but we need to help her.”

It turns out Harmon’s stockpiled a thousand pounds of ammonium nitrate fertilizer. They need 500 more. You know why. Problem is, if you order any amount over 10 pounds, this controlled substance sends up major red flags. 

Dena goes in the feed-store, throws down an ace improv, bamboozles the desk clerk, and bags bomb ingredients. They head home to jettison the boat seats, and “stuff the turkey.”

It’s camping time. Under cover of night, they take off across the camp lake. Pulling alongside the dam, Dena anchors the boat with an explosive powder-actuated drill. Harmon wires the boat-bomb. Just as they’re about to high-tail it out of there, a car pulls up on the far bank. Dena says, “That’s not a good spot.” Not everyone makes it out alive. 

Front-Page Drive-in News

The local papers run the dam story; farmers talk. Dena breaks the agreed radio silence, wanting to know if Josh has seen a website for a missing Oregon airplane mechanic who was camping out on the river that night. All his friends, children, and mother are posting. 

Dena’s got hives. She’s looking dangerously close to spilling the beans. Harmon thinks jail doesn’t sound too good. It’s life, plus 300 years …

This is about as cutting-edge, in terms of current material, as you can get. Mark Ruffalo, Sean Lennon, and Yoko Ono are all protesting fracking. Things fall apart. The center does not hold. That giant sucking sound is planet Earth’s vanishing resources. Amazon-Amazoff.

Therefore this movie should move us. It should be gripping and dramatic. It mostly isn’t. 

Unfortunately, while Eisenberg looks the part of a disgruntled eco-subversive, he possesses no deep-dug, tree-hugger taproot of dramatic power. When he needs to be convincingly psycho, he just looks mildly disturbed. Sighs a bit. You just don’t care enough about him to want him to succeed or fail.

The film does bring up a good point. Sometimes those zealously caring about dead deer enough to dynamite a dam are hyper-focused to the point of strangely lacking compassion for fellow humans.

Generally, the film is too slow moving. The music’s melancholy and echoey, like lake ripples, with sad piano chords. It’s appropriate, but it would have been nice to counter the overcast Oregon landscapes with some crackling dramatic tension. Sarsgaard can bring that. Fanning a bit less so. Eisenberg least of all.

In the end, what have we learned? Go small, don’t get zealous and hurt humans while trying to make some (as Bob Seger said) “Front-page drive-in news,” because (as Gil Scott said) “The revolution will not be televised.” Don’t be Timothy McVeigh. Be Johnny Appleseed and Ghandi.


‘Night Moves’ 
Director: Kelly Reichardt
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning, Peter Sarsgaard
Running time: 1 hour, 52 minutes
Rated R 
Release date: May 30
3 stars out of 5

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