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ReThink Reviews: Night Moves -- Can You Go Too Far to Protect the Earth?

05/30/2014 04:39 pm ET | Updated Jul 30, 2014

Sorry, nostalgia fans. The new film Night Moves has nothing to do with Bob Seger's 1976 ode to combating sexual inexperience, nor is it a remake of the 1975 detective film starring Gene Hackman. In Kelly Reichardt's political thriller, Night Moves is the name of a motorboat stuffed full of homemade explosives that three environmental activists hope will destroy a controversial dam that is damaging the ecosystem in a part of the Oregon wilderness. But when their plan goes awry (and I won't tell you how), the trio must deal with questions activists -- along with criminals or anyone committed to a cause -- must answer: How far will you go, how far is too far, and will you accept the consequences of your actions? Watch the trailer for Night Moves (2014) below.

Night Moves' three activists come to their mission from different backgrounds and with different expertise. Dena (Dakota Fanning) is a recent college dropout eager to fight for the environment, using her family's wealth to bankroll the scheme and her fresh and innocent face as a useful cover for activities like buying ingredients for explosives. The somewhat unreliable Harmon (Peter Sarsgaard) is an ex-marine with demolitions know-how, though he seems to be more fueled by mischief, rebellion, and dislike of government than a devotion to nature. The trio's putative leader is Josh (Jesse Eisenberg), who has realized that living by his values in a yurt on an organic farm is not enough to turn the tide of environmental destruction.

So you know, Night Moves isn't a traditional heist movie -- the team has been assembled and the plans set before the film starts. Instead, most of the film takes place in the aftermath of the bombing attempt as the trio grapples with what has happened and whether they can keep their involvement hidden. In that sense, the environmentalist aspect ceases to matter -- Night Moves could be about any illegal and supposedly victimless crime that puts its perpetrators on the run. Night Moves definitely works as a tense, lo-fi psychological thriller as the trio grapples with the reality of what they've done and the unending paranoia of being discovered, where it ultimately falls on Josh to deal with what might become their biggest liability.

But the environmental dimension is what gives Night Moves its interesting moral dimension, as well as informing the unique world where the film takes place. While most Americans have never felt the pain and indignity of foreign occupation or the religious fervor that drives so many radicals, insurgents, and terrorists, we all share a planet where the consequences of our collective disregard for the environment are becoming more and more difficult to ignore. But regardless of any personal steps one takes to live more conscientiously and sustainably, the bad news about the planet's health only seems to be getting worse. If you consider yourself an environmentalist (as I do), it's hard not to feel desperation if not outright despair as political cowardice, ignorance, and corporate collusion seem to thwart any attempt to make the system-wide changes necessary to avert environmental catastrophe. When Josh dismisses an environmentalist documentarian's belief that the environmental tide can be turned with "small plans, a lot of small plans," it's hard not to share his view that anything less than large, dramatic actions won't amount to much.

And Josh would know -- by living and working on a sustainable organic farm, he's definitely taking responsibility for his personal environmental impact and is trying to make things better. In addition, he's surrounded himself with a community of back-to-the-land progressives and neo-hippies who are also trying to live by their environmental ideals. However, it's the type of small, tight-knit community where rumors travel fast, yet it's also one whose members are sympathetic to Josh's frustration, devotion, and desire for action, though perhaps not his methods. But with mankind's continuing destruction of the environment and the entire ecosystems and countless human and animal lives at risk, I'm afraid we'll be facing the consequences of not doing enough way before we start wondering if we've done too much.

Follow more of my gardening and sustainability adventures on YouShouldBeGardening.com.