June 13, 2014 at 1:00 am

Tom Long

Review: Activism goes wrong in 'Night Moves'

Jesse Eisenberg plays a radical environmentalist trying to blow up a bridge in 'Night Moves.' (Cinedigm)

The consequences of bad moves made with the best of intentions become dire in “Night Moves.”

Director and co-writer Kelly Reichardt is known for moving slowly, staying with long shots and sparing dialogue, sometimes to enlightening effect (“Wendy and Lucy”), sometimes to the point of quick exhaustion (“Meek’s Cutoff”). Here she finds the right balance of real-time tension and restrained personality in a quiet, engrossing story of eco-terrorism.

Initially, we find Josh (Jesse Eisenberg), an organic farm worker in Oregon, and Dena (Dakota Fanning), a worker at a new age spa, looking out from a dam on a river.

With very little explanation, the two set off one weekend to buy a motorboat, then drive it north to the backwoods trailer of Harmon (Peter Sarsgaard) and the plan becomes clear: They are going to fill the boat with fertilizer and blow up the dam.

Understand, very little reason is given for this beyond an eco-alarm movie shown on a hanging sheet one night and Josh’s statement that the dam is killing fish so everyone can charge their iPods. Harmon seems out for the adventure, Dena resents the coming end of the world and Josh just seems surly and withdrawn.

But they are people of action and Reichardt tracks them as they put their plan in motion.

After success comes the human factor. Doubts arise — one of Josh’s friends points out there are 10 dams on that river, what’s the point? — and guilt darkens supposed victory. “Night Moves” is a study of murky actions, fuzzy ideals and wrong moves for righteous reasons.

'Night Moves'

GRADE: B

Rated R for some language and nudity

Running time: 112 minutes

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