Night Moves (2013)
★ / ★★★★
Director Kelly Reichardt’s “Night Movies” should have been called “It Drags” instead because sitting through it is like an unending torture, a bore down to its bone marrow. It tells the story of three environmentalists (Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning, Peter Sarsgaard) who decide to blow up a dam. When news circulate the following morning that a camper has gone missing since the night of the terrorism, guilt and paranoia begin to take control.
An understated realistic drama does not equal boring. It is the opposite: great movies that fall under this category are engaging because the characters are smart, the script offers no easy solution, and the direction demands the viewers to pay attention very closely because at times someone else’s plight may reflect a version of our own.
The film seems to pride itself through maintaining a level of detachment. The problem is, its subjects, environmentalists who are not above employing violence to get what they want, are already figures that are inaccessible. Instead of opening them up—what they think, why they come to think a certain way, how they plan to go about executing the changes they wish to see in the world—the material keeps us in the mist by utilizing soporific techniques.
It has a penchant for sticking with long takes—even if the scene leads nowhere or fails to offer an important detail about a character or a situation. Worse, the silences are supposed to be thoughtful, I suppose, but the script itself is devoid of insight. Yes, this is one of those movies where it puts close to nothing in and yet expects us to extract a lot from it. I do not know much about eco-terrorists or eco-terrorism other than the repercussions of their actions. By the end, I did not feel like I understood them a little better. The pictures introduces the idea that they are humans, too: capable of fear, guilt, and remorse. But that is too obvious.
The climactic scene is so poorly lit that it forces us squint through the darkness. It takes place at night in the middle of a body of water. It is understandable that the characters decide not to use flashlight in order to avoid getting caught. But it is the director’s responsibility to ensure that the audience are not struggling to watch a critical scene unfolding. Reichardt needed to reshoot the boat scene. Because it is so dark, the climax comes across flat rather than suspenseful. Realism does not equal incompetence.
“Night Moves” will be forgotten five years from now—and it deserves to be. What is shown here is not art in any way, shape, or form but an inexcusable digression aimed to waste everybody’s time. Despite its attempts to come across as “real,” there is no thought or emotion here worth sitting through. I was disgusted by its brazen attempt to tell a dead dull story for almost two hours.
Wendy and Lucy (2008)
★★★ / ★★★★
I have to give Michelle Williams kudos for starring in this really small, bare bones of a film. Her performance is so visceral and she fully embodies the ever-growing desperation that her character is going through. “Wendy and Lucy,” directed by Kelly Reichardt, tells the story of Wendy and her dog Lucy as the two try to go to Alaska so that Wendy can earn her money at a fish cannery. Things do not go quite as they had planned because Wendy’s car breaks down in Oregon, gets arrested for shoplifting dog food (she only had about $525 which was barely enough), and Lucy is nowhere to be seen when Wendy finally gets out of jail (Wendy left her dog tied to a rail in front of the store where she shoplifted). When Williams started looking for that dog, I felt like I was watching a mother trying to look for her child. It was really sad because things get from bad to worse in a matter of minutes and the hope of Wendy finding the dog grows dimmer and dimmer. Even though I really identified with Wendy’s situation, at some point I thought about just leaving the dog and going on ahead to Alaska. As cruel as that sounds, I think it’s justified because Wendy keeps spending money as she tries to keep looking for the dog. I get that Lucy is her only companion but, at least for me, the practical thing to do is to stop looking for the dog. Williams has come a long way since I’ve seen her first in “Dawson’s Creek” because she really uses her acting chops to carry this picture from beginning to end. I also have to give Reichardt credit for showing us a side of America where it’s not so glamorous. In fact, the places featured in this movie are downright depressing. Although the movie is about Wendy and Lucy’s friendship, sometimes I tried to pay attention to people on the background; some of them look like they’re sleepwalking through life. I find that particularly accurate because, though I didn’t grow up in a small town like the one in this movie, the area I grew up in was small enough to notice those kinds of people. Casual moviegoers may not like this film right off the bat or superficially consider it as “sad.” But film lovers should be able to look at it more closely and analytically and realize that it comes close to becoming something really special.