For a brief, hazy moment it seemed like being a freethinking, anti-capitalist was being part of a definitive change in America. (I pinpoint this moment to 1989, the 20th anniversary of Woodstock, when late 1960s nostalgia was really becoming a viable product.)
The jury is still out whether or not the Occupy Wall Street movement actually did anything other than bring a bunch of lame documentaries to Sundance, but if nothing else it showed that there is still a beating heart of activism in this country.
Night Moves, a slow and meditative look at three eco-terrorists in the Pacific Northwest may aggravate some viewers who think it is too slow. But this is a movie from Kelly Reichardt, director of the glacially paced (but intricate and ultimately rewarding) Meek's Cutoff and Old Joy, and by her standards this is Crank 2: High Voltage. It definitely trades-in some of her hypnotic tone, but the result is a rather absorbing story with just enough character background to feel quite believable.
Jesse Eisenberg lives on a collective farm. When they're not picking turnips, they are discussing the perhaps irrevocable damage modernity has done to the planet. (I really hope that what some of the angry kids say after watching an environmental doc wasn't peer reviewed.) He is quiet and has that angry puss on his face that is quickly becoming Eisenberg's stock-in-trade.
He's hooked up with Dakota Fanning and the pair go off to buy a boat from some middle class dude in one of those ugly McMansions. Fanning hands over the cash - a unit of currency Peter Saarsgard later refers to as "the poor peoples' money."
Saarsgard, we'll later learn is the man with the plan. (Fanning, from wealthy stock, represents the finance. What Eisenberg represents will ultimately be up to your interpretation.) The trio intend to blow up a dam. The specific reasons are a little vague - it's bad for the river, or maybe it kills salmon - but the point is that people need to be reminded that they have to "use less," and direct action is the way to do it.
There are some hurdles. They need 500 lbs of fertilizer and you can't just go into a store to buy some. Even with Saarsgard's fake IDs, one needs a social security card, and there are cameras everywhere and, oh, man, it's like we're living in a police state.
The scene of setting up the bomb is loaded with tension. (And it doesn't help that Eisenberg strongly suspects Fanning and Saarsgard to be sleeping with one another now.) The actual explosion is played in such a realistic and non-cinematic manner it is almost revelatory. The problems come soon thereafter when the gang realizes the full implications of their action.
Night Moves takes a fly-on-the-wall approach, and even though common sense tells you these folks shouldn't be going through with this (this is a movie, after all, and you know nothing ever goes as planned) it's very difficult not to admire these dedicated people. There's very little goofing around - they aren't listening to the Grateful Dead and rolling joints - they are wearing dirty clothes and are acting like a true rebellion against what they see as an evil empire.
A lesser movie - like Zal Batmanglij's ultimately disappointing The East - would load this movie up with plot. Night Moves only has a few "beats." But it more than makes up for that in tone and sharply observed nuance. I'm not 100% sure the lesson learned from the film is all that revelatory but the slow pull of this river is certainly effective.