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In 'Night Moves,' Filmmaker Dredges The Tension That Lives In Quiet


Director Kelly Reichardt's films live between the spaces of words unsaid. Her body of work includes "Wendy And Lucy," "Meek's Cutoff" and "Old Joy." All of her films are marked with deliberate pacing and sparse dialogue, with the Pacific Northwest as their backdrop.

Her latest movie, "Night Moves," is no different. This one follows the story of three young environmentalists, played by Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning and Peter Sarsgaard who plan to blow up a hydroelectric dam in protest. But "Night Moves" is less about making a political statement than it is an intimate study of its characters.

KELLY REICHARDT: I like working on a small scale. I mean, you know, in my hands it would be "12 Hours A Slave" - what happened in those 12 hours?

CORNISH: Kelly Reichardt described "Night Moves" as a thriller with a small T.

REICHARDT: I like to get down to the moment-to-moment action in something and find the tension in those smaller moments that are not super over-stimulated. So a certain turn can have - you know, become a big moment that in another setting might be, you know, someone just stepped on a stick, and it cracked.

CORNISH: Now, I'm going to play a clip here. And this is a scene between Peter Sarsgaard, who plays the character of Harmon, and Jesse Eisenberg - Josh. And what they're talking about is the cash purchase of the boat that's going to be used in this crime.


JESSE EISENBERG: (As Josh) She paid for it.

PETER SARSGAARD: (As Harmon) How much was that boat?

EISENBERG: (As Josh) Ten grand.

SARSGAARD: (As Harmon) Rich daddy. I don't see why she has to be here, though. She's done plenty already.

EISENBERG: (As Josh) It's part of the deal.

SARSGAARD: (As Harmon) I don't see why she just doesn't go home. We can take her down to the train station tomorrow morning. This isn't the same as those other shows, my friend. This is on a different level, you know that.

CORNISH: Kelly Reichardt, this is a scene - it was actually kind of hard to find a scene that had a lot of talking. (Laughing) Not talking, but sort of this is a rapid level of conversation, practically, for this film. Can you talk about your style little bit?

REICHARDT: I do think that there's a lot that takes place in between the dialogue and around the dialogue. And I guess I think the sort of language of the movie happens outside the dialogue for the most part. But...

CORNISH: Meaning in the silences?

REICHARDT: In the silences, and, you know, in, I guess, visual storytelling in a way, where the camera is and where the edit is or how people move or what they're doing in the silent moments - a look, a pause - and how you can use quiet to present tension as opposed to, you know, raising the score and heightening every tense moment. You can do the opposite of that and create tension, also.

CORNISH: Right, most films that would be described as a thriller, there's that kind of like (singing) dun-dun, dun-dun, dun-dun, dun.


CORNISH: It's going to get louder and louder, like...

REICHARDT: Yeah, they put that in our trailer. So I saw the trailer projected last night, and it has all these, like (imitates dramatic sound), and I was like, wow. You know, I had to tell the audience that would not actually be happening in the movie. You know, I guess I do spend so much time and energy on sound design. And so I always think that the sound designs are pretty complex. They're super minimalist, but it's true I guess they're quiet in terms of voices. But did you hear the mosquitoes in the background there? There was things going on.

CORNISH: Kelly Reichardt, when I read descriptions of your work or reviews or critiques, there's this kind of persistent thread about it being quiet and meditative - or when people are being more critical, that nothing much happens and that the endings are sad. Do you feel like some of that is misread or that, you know, some of it is our own expectations about, say, what a thriller should deliver?

REICHARDT: I do think there is that. I don't really feel like it's my job to give everybody everything that they're already expecting. You know, I think it's good to not necessarily scratch every itch right when an audience wants it. I mean, otherwise we all just sort of come in knowing what we know and leave knowing what we know.

But I don't think these films are for everybody anymore than any film is. I mean, I go to the movies, and I feel so assaulted by the loudness of everything. So I don't know. I feel like every film has its own speed. I thought of "Night Moves" as my big action movie, so. (Laughing) I guess it's all relative.

CORNISH: That's director Kelly Reichardt. Her new film is called "Night Moves." It's out in theaters now. Thank you so much for talking with us.

REICHARDT: Thank you for having me.


You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.