The most radical thing about this eco-terrorism drama is its quiet patience and formal vigor. While most studio pictures slap together images with all the care of a deli clerk assembling ham and carrots on a party platter, director Kelly Reichardt favors the approach of poets and Jenga players: If you pull one shot out, the whole thing collapses.
Often, she frames her stars as if they just happened through a wider world that Reichardt's camera just happens to be documenting. The lakes, communes, and farm-supply stores where Night Moves' tense and moody story unfolds exist unperturbed by the concerns of the film's protagonists, an inversion of how kids-on-a-mission movies usually work. Jesse Eisenberg's Josh, Dakota Fanning's Dena, and Peter Sarsgaard's Harmon have banded together to blow up an Oregon dam because doing so might "send a message" about our priorities, our wastefulness, and the possibility of enacting change.
That patience of Reichardt's, and her dedication to showing us exclusively the things that we must see, makes the scenes of preparation -- boat parking, fertilizer buying -- hypnotic, suspenseful, and practical. Reichardt teases out the moral questions: Do we hope for their success? Do we think such destruction might accomplish anything?
The aftermath is a serious comedown -- occasionally, as it rises to an inevitable tragedy, Night Moves flags, telling us things it had already stirred us to know. Still, the bleak final scenes are anticipated by every element of the opening ones. These romantics have not made their too-big world a better place for all of us: They've made getting by in it even harder for themselves.