Kelly Reichardt

Night Moves

Editor’s note: Our review of Night Moves originally ran during last year’s TIFF, but we’re re-posting it now as the film opens in limited theatrical release. Early in Kelly Reichardt’s Night Moves, a film about pollution and its effects on the environment is shown to a group of Oregon environmentalists, including Dena (Dakota Fanning) and Josh (Jesse Eisenberg). Post-screening, the film’s director is bombarded with the usual kinds of questions any filmmaker is forced to field at such an event (surely there’s a cut featuring someone asking what the budget was somewhere out there), but a defiant Dena only wants to know what sort of “big plan” can be put into action to right the wrongs against our planet. With just one question, Dena puts all of her cards on the table, and so does the film. Dena and Josh are primarily concerned with big plans – and they’ve got one. Intent on blasting a hole in the burgeoning industrialization taking over their state, the two have been slowly cooking up a plan to do just that, by busting a hole in a nearby dam. Aided by Josh’s friend Harmon (Peter Sarsgaard), the three are already in the final stages of their ecoterrorism scheme by the time Night Moves kicks up, and the film’s first act ticks steadily toward to their criminal (and perhaps criminally stupid) act.

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Jesse Eisenberg and Dakota Fanning in Night Moves

Kelly Reichardt, the director of Wendy and Lucy, Old Joy and Meek’s Crossing, is known for her collected and measured filmmaking, and her ability to attract fantastic talent to her projects (like Michelle Williams in two of the above mentioned). With her latest feature, Night Moves, those eerily calm undertones leftover from her previous work are still present, but the stakes are higher in a more nervewracking plot. Reichardt has again attracted a wealth of talent to star in her new film, this time gathering Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning and Peter Sarsgaard as a group of ecological activists (whatever you do, just don’t even think about calling them ecoterrorists — Sarsgaard isn’t too keen on that label) who hatch a plot to bomb a hydroelectric dam. The first (French-subtitled) trailer for Night Moves (which, if we’re being honest, sounds like a groovy dance flick about an up-and-comer in 1970s NYC and less like a high-stakes ecodrama) has launched, and it shows something different than the average heist or crime thriller. It’s about what happens after the crime has been committed and the bomb has gone off.

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news dakota fanning night moves

Our real-life world is fraught with with espionage, whistleblowers and radical political movements, so it’s only fitting that the film world is following suit. Kelly Reichardt‘s Night Moves explores a little bit of all three in the form of extreme environmentalism. Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning and Peter Sarsgaard play three radical environmentalists attempting to pull off the most dangerous, ballsy protest of their lives: blowing up a hydroelectric dam that represents the industrial culture they hate so much. The film focuses as much on the build-up to the plan as it does the execution, as seen in these newly released stills, courtesy of The Playlist. Check out the other two stills below.

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Kelly Reichardt

As fans of Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij, most of our coverage of Kelly Reichardt‘s eco-terrorism film, Night Moves, has made mention of the similarities between her film and Marling and Batmanglij’s latest, The East, as both films center on eco-terrorism groups who are bent on destruction. However, it now appears that we should have been playing closer attention to yet another eco-terrorism film and its similarities to Night Moves, mainly because the team behind that other film are alleging that Reichardt’s film has lifted from the production’s material in a big way. THR reports (via Cinema Blend) that Edward R. Pressman Film has filed a lawsuit against the production (including Reichardt, screenwriter Jonathan Raymond, executive producers Todd Haynes, Larry Fessenden, Alejandro De Leon, Film Science, RT Features CEO Rodrigo Teixeira, and foreign sales agent The Match Factory GmbH) that demands that all work the film stop because “the plaintiffs claim that the unproduced work is a blatant rip-off of the popular Edward Abbey novel, The Monkey Wrench Gang, which is about to be turned into an authorized film from the Catfish team of Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman.” Oops.

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Culture Warrior

I recently viewed the trailer for Andrea Arnold’s upcoming Wuthering Heights. Besides being a truly awesome-looking adaptation of some literature you were probably forced to read in high school, the third feature by one of the UK’s most promising new filmmakers, and sporting a nice quote from none other than our own Kate Erbland, there’s something else worth noticing about this upcoming indie period drama: it uses the old-school Academy standard (1.33:1 to 1.37:1) aspect ratio instead of the more conventional cinema standard (1.85:1) and anamorphic widescreen cinema standard (2.35:1) ratios. Now, this might sound like I’m drowning deep in some movie nerd recess that actually involves numbers (and escaping anything seemingly math-related is scientifically-proven to be the means by which most movie nerds come into being), there’s something genuinely important about the fact that a handful of small independent and foreign films have embraced this all-but-abandoned ratio. In an era in which all of our screens (movie, television, laptop, tablet, phone) are rectangles, the squarer-shaped screen that characterizes the Academy Ratio is proving to offer unique, even startling approaches to film visuals that can only rarely be found in other categories of experiencing audio-visual media.

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Jesse Eisenberg and Dakota Fanning in Night Moves

In somewhat disappointing casting news, Variety reports (via FirstShowing) that Kelly Reichardt‘s next film, the eco-terrorism thriller Night Moves, will not star Paul Dano and Rooney Mara as had been previously reported. Dano had been linked to the film earlier this year, while Mara’s name had been consistently mentioned, though she had never been officially attached. Instead, the film will star Jesse Eisenberg and Dakota Fanning, who join the long-attached Peter Sarsgaard to round out the main trio, three eco-terrorists who hatch a plan to blow up a dam. Sarsgaard will be the “mastermind behind the bomb,” with Eisenberg set to play the “ringleader” and Fanning as a rich girl who backs the plan financially. While both Eisenberg and Fanning are interesting actors, Dano and Mara have always struck me as much more compelling, so it’s hard not to feel as if this is a trade down. However, Eisenberg’s role will likely call for him to exhibit some new facets to his craft (it’s hard to imagine that a eco-terrorist ringleader won’t have to rely on something like charisma to pull in new recruits), and working under a performance-minded filmmaker like Reichardt should be good for everyone involved. Also, they don’t really seem to have as much to lose.

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Culture Warrior

What exactly do we mean when we find a movie to be boring? Does boring mean redundant? Monotonous? Tedious? Wearisome? Frustrating? Tiring? Uninteresting? Not challenging? The proposed definitions here are far from a collection of synonymous effects on what constitutes a “boring” work. The above terms can often be associated with boredom, but when parsed apart these can denote very different, even oppositional, experiences. For instance, tedium and frustration, which imply an active and engaged (though not positive) form of viewership, do not necessarily describe the same experience as something that feels monotonous or tiring, which by contrast suggests a passive viewer. However, the boredom critique deserves to be severed from its associations with “uninteresting” and “unchallenging” cinema, and “monotony” and “tedium” need not always be negative experiences when watching films. Boring cinema can instead be the most challenging and revelatory of all. In 2009, I wrote a piece titled Slow Isn’t Boring in which I defended the type of deliberately-paced cinema Dan Kois later expressed his frustration with, arguing that slow cinema has the capacity to give viewers a unique and hypnotic experience of time that you can’t find in other entertainment media. Thus, with the films of slow filmmakers like Andrei Tarkovsky, Apichatpong Weerasethakhul, and Carlos Reygadas, I find myself the furthest from a state accurately described as “bored”; in fact, I experience the reverse: total immersion.

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Culture Warrior

Ambiguity is no stranger to the arthouse film. Over fifty years after a group of daytrippers never found their lost shipmate in Antonioni’s L’Avventura, the ambiguous ending still retains the power to frustrate, confuse, anger, and challenge viewers. Continued controversies over ambiguity in narrative films point to Hollywood’s enduring dominance over the notion that films must be coherent and contain closure. However, the convention of closure can be a maddening limitation for filmmakers who intend to ask questions with no easy answers, or pose problems with no clear solutions (assuming that such answers or solutions exist in the first place). But ambiguity can take on a variety of forms, and with different degrees of effectiveness. Sometimes a film’s ambiguous hole can be more fulfilling and thought-provoking than any convention of linear causality in its place, but at other points ambiguity can become a handicap, or a gap that simply feels like a gap. Here are a few films from the past year that engage in several modes of intended ambiguity.

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Culture Warrior

Usually I’m quite cynical about end-of-year lists, as they demand a forced encapsulation of an arbitrary block of time that is not yet over into something simplified. I typically find end-of-year lists fun, but rarely useful. But 2011 is different. As Scott Tobias pointed out, while “quiet,” this was a surprisingly strong year for interesting and risk-taking films. What’s most interesting has been the variety: barely anything has emerged as a leading contender that tops either critics’ lists or dominates awards buzz. Quite honestly, at the end of 2010 I struggled to find compelling topics, trends, and events to define the year in cinema. The final days of 2011 brought a quite opposite struggle, for this year’s surprising glut of interesting and disparate films spoke to one another in a way that makes it difficult to isolate any of the year’s significant works. Arguments in the critical community actually led to insightful points as they addressed essential questions of what it means to be a filmgoer and a cinephile. Mainstream Hollywood machine-work and limited release arthouse fare defied expectations in several directions. New stars arose. Tired Hollywood rituals and ostensibly reliable technologies both met new breaking points. “2011” hangs over this year in cinema, and the interaction between the films – and the events and conversations that surrounded them – makes this year’s offerings particular to their time and subject to their context. This is what I took away from this surprising year:

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Culture Warrior

A genre nearly as old as filmmaking itself, the western thrived throughout the years of the studio system but has zigzagged across rough terrain for the past forty or so years. For the last fifteen-ish years, the struggling, commercially unfriendly genre was either manifested in a neoclassical nostalgic form limited in potential mass appeal (Appaloosa, Open Range) or in reimagined approaches that ran the gamut between contrived pap and inspired deconstructions (anything from Wild Wild West to The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford). But last December, True Grit – a bona fide western remake that relied on the opportunities available in the genre’s conventions rather than bells, whistles, or ironic tongues in their respective cheeks – became a smash hit. Did this film reinvigorate a genre that was on life support, as the supposed revitalization of the musical is thought to have done a decade ago, or are westerns surviving by moving along a different route altogether? Three westerns released so far this year – Gore Verbinski’s Rango, Kelly Reichardt’s Meek’s Cutoff, and, as of this weekend, Jon Favreau’s Cowboys & Aliens – suggest mixed directions for the dusty ol’ genre.

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Meek’s Cutoff hit the festival circuit hard and received a strong amount of praise for its visual style and its look at lives on the line in the desert of 1845 Oregon. Michelle Williams leads a fantastic cast including Paul Dano, Bruce Greenwood, Zoe Kazan, Neal Huff, and Will Patton in what appears to be Oregon Trail: The Movie if everything went wrong and you couldn’t trust the person you depended on the most. Check out the trailer for yourself:

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