Having established herself as a purveyor of minimalist character dramas with the likes of Meek’s Cutoff, Old Joy and Wendy and Lucy, director Kelly Reichardt turns her hand to a story of environmentalism and how a trio of friends get more than they bargained for when they plan to blow up a dam.
The scene and mood is set well, something Reichardt has always been strong at, and thanks to the cinematography by Christopher Blauvelt (The Bling Ring, Meek’s Cutoff) it is beautiful to look at especially in its stark nighttime scenes. But it throws away a potentially thrilling plot in favour of listening to uninteresting characters prattle on about mundane things, that is when they’re not introspectively sitting around staring at the surrounding environment; a particularly unsubtle moment sees two of them looking at a group of river trees that are barely left standing.
The script feels laboured and repetitive. It feels like it’s merely going through the motions as it slowly progresses with its thin narrative, with little sense of tension surrounding the situation (even a scene set against the clock as they attempt to pull off their meticulously planned statement against the government, for example, is somewhat dull) and certainly no sense of danger that they might be caught.
It’s a film of two halves, the first being the organization and carrying out of their plan and the second the aftermath, local reactions to what they’ve done and the group fretting over their potential incarceration. Moments of interest are mainly found the former as the latter sees the plot ever-exceed the grasp of its director, buying time until a ridiculous and muddled ending.
So as a political activism thriller fails in creating any sort of feeling of unease about whether or not they’ll get away with it. And as a character study it doesn’t work because it never does anything to make us truly care about them, never getting beneath the surface of why the characters are doing what they’re doing or what it means to them on a personal level when the consequences of their actions suddenly become clear to them.
I think you either like Reichardt’s movies or you don’t and fans will probably know what to expect going into this one. I found it an initially intriguing but ultimately slow and a curiously unsatisfying film that goes absolutely nowhere, preachy with its environmental messages and self-indulgent with how it goes about exploring them. Even the solid performances from Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning and Peter Sarsgaard aren’t enough to sustain what is essential half an hour of drama elongated across a far too lengthy 110 minute runtime.