Eisenberg knows how to play a tense neurotic.
Night Moves is probably the only suspenseful thriller you'll see this year in which someone explains what a CSA box is.
The remarks on community-supported agriculture come at a fraught moment, one of several. Eco-terrorists Josh (Jesse Eisenberg) and Dena (Dakota Fanning) have just blown up a dam, and they are stopped at a roadblock. A police officer asks to search their pickup truck, and we wonder whether she will find evidence relating to the large amount of fertilizer they and their friend Harmon (Peter Sarsgaard) have used to commit the crime. But no, the cop finds a container full of root vegetables and greens. It's for home delivery, the Eisenberg character explains.
Eisenberg plays an organic farmer in Night Moves, an engrossing film directed and cowritten by Kelly Reichardt. She made the indie Western Meek's Cutoff and the forlorn, dog-themed melodrama Wendy and Lucy, one of my favorite films. Night Moves resembles heist movies like The Killing and Rififi, in which elaborate crimes are planned in painstaking detail, then carried out. Throw in a dash of Portlandia, and you've got Night Moves.
Set in Oregon, Night Moves covers some of the same ground as that satiric television series, which spoofs the not un-Madison-like manners and mores of the Pacific Northwest. We see New Age crystals, farmers' markets, hippie hairstyles, communal living. We watch as casually dressed young people debate the merits of a lefty polemical documentary.
We also watch as organic farmers debate the merits of blowing up one dam versus several dams, and the exchange may make you wonder what Reichardt is trying to say about the sustainable food effort. I doubt she's arguing that it will inevitably give rise to large-scale violence. But the sustainability movement is committed to change, and we know all too well that across the ideological spectrum, movements like that can inspire extremists.
One such extremist is Josh, another of the tense neurotics Eisenberg is making a career of playing. The film centers on Josh, but other than a brief speech about the plight of the salmon, we don't hear much from him about his motivations. Reichardt chooses understatement, and it's a good choice. She chooses understatement throughout, and brings a low-key, documentary fascination to the scenes in which the crime is prepared. The friends buy a speedboat, con an agricultural supplier into selling them fertilizer, prepare the explosives with a mixer identical to the one Josh uses on his farm.
Another understated moment: the destruction of the dam. The explosion registers only as a muffled boom off in the distance. Given an indie budget, this is probably the best solution. It would be handled rather differently in a Michael Bay movie.