This newest film from Kelly Reichardt follows three radical environmentalists, played by Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning and Peter Sarsgaard, as they plot to blow up a dam as an act of protest. It's a film that marries the thriller and the character study really, really well. There are moments that are very suspenseful, but it really is the characters that make the film work. I first saw the "no-longer-child" version of Dakota Fanning last year in The Motel Life and she's quite good in both that film and this one. There's still something of the distinctiveness she had as a young child; at the same time, she's very natural, minimal and real - she doesn't seem at all like a "movie star." Eisenberg is really excellent; he's an actor who gets dinged for being the same in every role, but watch him here and you'll see that he's more than capable of giving a deeply emotional, profoundly great performance without any of the tics that he sometimes uses in his schtick. Sarsgaard is, unfortunately, underused, but he's always a pleasure to watch. The scripting is really wonderful; the three mains are all different from each other in really obvious ways, but they're not cardboard stereotypes. You can generally know how the characters will react to different events and to each other, but just when you're getting really comfortable about it, one of them will act in a way that's surprising. They feel absolutely real, in other words. And a word for James Le Gros, who shows up in a nice, very small role as a feed store clerk; he proves the "no small parts" cliche to be true by making the character one of the most memorable parts of the film. All in all, it's a moody, methodical, gripping and bleak film. The ending will be divisive, I suppose, but for me it's perfect. It fits right in with Reichardt's great theme of being directionless, lost, wandering, in both the physical and the emotional senses. It may take you a bit to adjust, or readjust, to the rhythms of Reichardt; I had some difficulty for the first twenty to thirty minutes myself, but once you let her take control, you're in for greatness. Great film. Highly recommended. 4 stars.
tl;dr – a trio of great performances and a smart, minimal script make Night Moves the perfect marriage of character study & thriller. 4 stars