KELLY REICHARDT isn't a traditional storyteller. Her films, written in collaboration with Portland writer Jonathan Raymond (Old Joy, Wendy and Lucy, Meek's Cutoff), are like enlarged fragments of longer narratives: We meet characters with little context, and when we part ways with them, it's most often without a clear sense of resolution. But in her latest, Night Moves, Reichardt engages more than ever with... well, plot. Genre, even. Night Moves is her most easily classifiable work to date; thankfully, Reichardt keeps herself at enough of a remove from traditions that she retains her identity as a purveyor of the unanswered.
The film takes its name from a boat acquisitioned by Josh (Jesse Eisenberg), Dena (Dakota Fanning), and Harmon (Peter Sarsgaard) for an act of environmental protest: blowing up a hydroelectric dam. The film takes place in Oregon, as Reichardt's films often do, with its characters shuttling between campsites, holistic saunas, suburban homes with backyard waterfalls, and farm collectives. The protagonists' motives are left under-articulated, explored indirectly through tangential conversations, as the film keeps its focus trained on the subtle psychologies at play.
It wouldn't be accurate to say Night Moves is sympathetic to its characters' actions; the film's objectivity is almost cold. At the same time, our experiences with the characters are visceral and anxious: We care for them in the abstract way we can't help but care for protagonists, without ever having a satisfying grasp on their identities.
Near the end, Night Moves takes a turn that doesn't quite sit right, even though it seems the logical extension of the storytelling tradition that Reichardt is toying with. Still, its combination of narrative momentum and inconclusiveness makes the film at once accessible and dedicated to Reichardt's sometimes-obtuse aesthetic. And I mean that in a good way.