To what extent do we “count the cost” before we act? Assuming responsibility for our actions is one definition of adulthood. However, if all the possible consequences of one’s actions have not been assessed, then facing any negative fallout that occurs as a result becomes problematic. Either one accepts responsibility and confronts, or one flees and avoids reality. There is also the torment of the middle ground: racking oneself with guilt and dark, nightmare fears, while living a life on the run escaping the light of truth. Night Moves starring Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning and Peter Sarsgaard and directed by Kelly Reichardt enjoyed its US Premiere at Tribeca Film Festival 2014. The film investigates the concept of accepting responsibility for one’s actions when the unexpected consequences of those actions are dire.
Josh (Jesse Eisenberg), and Dena (Dakota Fanning), with the help of Harmon (Peter Sarsgaard), have decided to take a stand against developers who are expanding their empire into a lush and green nature area, forest, and campground. Though they have engaged in environmental actions before, their current plan is more ambitious and promises to be extremely effective. Blowing up Oregon’s Green Peter Dam will force developers to halt their building and construction plans, which include negatively impacting the environment and potentially destroying wildlife habitat. The message will be a powerful one.
Harmon, who has served prison time, directs and helps them, though the bulk of the action is effected by Josh and Dena, who additionally provides the money to purchase equipment and supplies. Though they are not able to purchase all the fertilizer they need because of legal restrictions, they successfully carry out their plan and destroy the dam. However, the important message of what they have done is buried as the media fuels the outrage that one individual may have drowned as a result of their “good” intentions. When the body is eventually found, it is clear; they are guilty of manslaughter or worse and they must either accept responsibility for what they have done, or hide in the shadows of their own guilty souls and remain quiet for the rest of their lives, going about their business like nothing happened.
As guilt, fear, and torment eat away at each of them, the move to step into the light and reveal what they have done drives Dena first to confront Harmon who then contacts Josh. The state of their duress is apparent for they are speaking to each other despite their vows not to. Already, they are unraveling and it is a matter of time before one of them cracks and turns over their accomplices perhaps to gain a lighter sentence. Though no one has approached law enforcement, Harmon’s prior jail sentence will have the most repercussions if he is discovered. Harmon pressures Josh to speak to Dena to gauge her emotional situation. What results from their discussion twists into a labyrinth of darkness from which neither can easily return.
Jon Raymond and Kelly Reichardt have created an interesting mix of suspense and human drama heightened by nuanced and thoughtful performances by Sarsgaard, Eisenberg, and Fanning. Eisenberg, especially, carries the development of his character into the abyss with effecting power. He offers a bleak and terrifying perspective which is both believable and somehow completely empathetic. How Josh responds is understandable, though noxious. His deep portrayal raises the question: what must Josh do and what inner strength will it take for Josh to do it?
Because of Eisenberg’s performance, one is able to look beyond the contrived conflicts which deliver an opaquely drawn theme in an otherwise beautifully rendered and cinematic film. If not for these actors, the characterizations would be linearly drawn. Their performances flesh out and redirect what might have been a pat and trite plot driving to an obvious result. Instead, these actors offer the layers that reveal how individuals unwittingly catch themselves in their own harm then find it difficult if not impossible to extricate themselves unless they find the light and the truth of responsibility.[amazon template=iframe image&chan=default&asin=B0034G4P7G, B00DWZHTRW]