I can't think of a worse gig for someone like you than a Kelly Reichardt film.
If you've seen her earlier work – notably Wendy and Lucy or Meek's Cutoff (both starring Michelle Williams) – you've undoubtedly noticed the simultaneously essential and throwaway nature of mixing the location sound. In order to achieve her distinctive brand of neo-realism, Reichardt often forces the audience to strain to make out the mumbled dialogue hidden behind campfire crackles or desert winds. At other times, she will eschew dialogue completely for 15 minutes at a time and just let the simplest location sounds support her minimal aesthetics. This might have lead you to assume that Night Moves would be either the easiest job of your life, or the hardest. But that wasn't the case, was it? Night Moves probably turned out to be just another job, the same way it turned out to be just another film.
Reichardt, a true American auteur, has decided to take a modest step towards the commercial center in this story about environmental activists plotting to destroy a hydro dam. The narrative, motivations, and dialogue, are all fairly clear and easy to follow. Her trademark wandering characters are in control for most of this film, and her technical approach follows suit. The lighting is sparse and natural, the camera is slow and distant, and your location sound is dialed back but ever-present. This time, however, Jeff Grace's soundtrack is covering much more of the transitions and mood shifts. It all ends up feeling a little too conventional, especially after the bold impression she left with her last film, Meek's Cutoff.
Still, this is far from a standard thriller. Reichardt is once again exploring the relationship between people and nature, but in a much more aggressive and direct approach than in the past. Jesse Eisenberg, in the central role, gives a restrained and introspective performance, but his co-stars Dakota Fanning and Peter Saarsgard are allowed to play within a slightly wider and more relatable range. They can smile, be sarcastic and openly debate consequences rather than bottle them all up inside. Perhaps this is why their character arcs are more sympathetic than Eisenberg's.
But of course, it's what's not being said or heard that usually makes Reichardt's films unique. After toiling in independent obscurity for years, it's hard to blame her for trying to make something less challenging on the audience. Except easy is never as rewarding – not for a viewer, and not even for a crew member like you.
Until next time,