Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning, Peter Sarsgaard
Rated R for Some Language and Nudity
I knew that as soon as I picked this movie from my collection that I was going to either love it or hate it. Slow-burn, understated thrillers are incredibly difficult to get right. And for the Sundance crowd (no one else could possibly be the film's target audience), ego-trips on the part of the director are hailed as "style" or "quirkiness." No guesses as to what my verdict actually is.
This movie sucks. It's dull, it's pointless, it's devoid of any interesting characters or plot developments. There's precious little suspense and even less good drama. This is just an excuse for writer/director Kelly Reichardt to show her (presumably) equally self-absorbed, contrarian friends how "avant-garde" and "not Hollywood" she is. Those may be true, but based on the evidence, she's a lousy filmmaker.
Josh (Eisenberg), Dena (Fanning) and Harmon (Sarsgaard) are three radical environmentalists who plan to blow up a hydroelectric plant. However, mistrust is in the air, and they soon learn that terrorism pays a heavy price. To illustrate this, there's a lot of mumbling, staring off into space, and driving around.
I hate movies like this. It's so obviously a vehicle for the director to show off that it's actually offensive. I mean seriously. Who in their right mind would subject an audience to a film where not only does almost nothing happen, but all the possible energy is sucked out of the movie? Who but an egomaniac would do something so sadistic? Reichardt isn't the only one I blame. What about the producers, the stars or the studio heads? Hell, even the caterer had to have known what was going on. When every character talks like they're in a library and there are long, pointless silences everywhere, it should be obvious to anyone present that something is terribly wrong.
None of the three cast members are known for being risk-averse when it comes to choosing roles. After all, Dakota Fanning played a child rape victim in "Houndog," Jesse Eisenberg took on the monumental challenge of playing Mark Zuckerberg in "The Social Network," and Peter Sarsgaard's resume is filled with daring and diverse roles (perhaps none more so than the psychopathic John Lotter in "Boys Don't Cry"). None of their talents are served well here, forcing them to try and save a film that was set on course for self-destruction. They deserve better.
A slow-burn thriller like this needs two things: strong character identification and an appropriate, deliberate pace. The latter is dead on arrival, since it goes nowhere very slowly. The first is non-existent. All the mumbling and staring off into space doesn't tell us anything about the people in this movie. I didn't know a damn thing about Josh, Dena, Harmon, or any of the other characters. Logan Miller, who would later go on to steal scenes in the criminally underrated "Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse," appears, but he's only on screen for two minutes and Reichardt doesn't even try to take advantage of his screwy humor.
There are a few moments here and there where the seeds of a potentially good movie are shown, but Reichardt ignores them. For her, this is all about showing off her indie sensibilities and rebellion against the multiplex. I guess I can admire her convictions on some level, but it's very hard since the movie is so fucking awful.