Directed by Kelly Reichardt. Starring Jesse Eisenberg and Dakota Fanning. Rated PG.
Silence is golden—and sometimes awkward—in Kelly Reichardt’s moody, slow-moving little character portrait of three young, idealistic ecoterrorists. Rather than have them talk about their motivations for bombing a controversial dam, Reichardt tries to show us the way the characters have bonded with nature. Oregon’s rustling autumn forests, verdant organic cabbage gardens, warbling birdsong, and gently trickling waters surround them, and the viewer, throughout the film.
Josh (Jesse Eisenberg), Dena (Dakota Fanning), and their mentor, Harmon (Peter Sarsgaard), seem beyond preaching environmental politics, sitting for long periods—in pickup trucks, motorboats, and campsites—wordlessly mulling over the action they’re about to take. Even the explosion itself, when it happens, is a far-off, muffled rumble.
The main problem, plotwise, is that almost everything is predetermined in the film, from the early-announced act that’s being planned to the predictable fallout. Some scenes feel interminably drawn-out, like the one in which Dena repeatedly returns to a feed-company office while trying to buy a red-flag-raising amount of fertilizer. Haunting, echoey guitar and gorgeously lensed scenery can’t fill in the slow ride to action.
Fortunately, though, Reichardt has an A-list cast that can dig into the wordless corners of the script. Eisenberg’s Josh has the most complicated interior world, as an organic-farm worker who lives in a yurt and helps deer hit on the road, but who harbours deeply seeded torment and anger. His relationship with Dena is intriguing, too; she’s a rich girl who puts Daddy’s money into her activist cause, and seems to have fewer feelings for Josh than he has for her. She’s drawn instead to the charismatic Harmon—but again, this is all vaguely intimated.
Somewhere between the meditative, cryptic movie here and the too-glossy thriller of last year, The East, there still lies a strong movie about ecoterrorists waiting to be made.