Night Moves

Movie review by
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
Night Moves Movie Poster Image
Radical-environmentalism drama is thoughtful, slightly edgy.
  • R
  • 2014
  • 112 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Without preaching or laying out its politics in any obvious way, the movie gives teens plenty to think about along the lines of food, energy use, and consumerism. The movie makes plenty of suggestions but provides no concrete answers, allowing smart teens to think for themselves.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Though the three characters have humanity's best interests in mind, their methods are highly questionable.


A man is killed (off screen), and a struggle between main characters results in an accidental death. A character finds a dead deer by the side of the road and discovers that it was pregnant and that its baby is still alive inside. He pushes it down a hill into the woods. Characters argue.


A few middle-aged women are seen naked in a sauna; naked breasts are seen, although they wear towels or are generally shown from behind. In a later scene, playful, giggling voices are heard outside a trailer suggesting the possibility of two people having sex inside.


"F--k" and "s--t" are used a few times each. "Goddamn" and "idiot" are also used, as is "oh my God."


The main character drives a Ford pickup truck, and the logo on the tailgate is on display more than once. Facebook and iPod are mentioned (albeit in a negative way).

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

The three characters sip from bottles of beer in one scene.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Night Moves is a drama about a group of radical environmentalists attempting a dangerous protest. It's a slow but suspenseful movie with plenty of moments in which to ponder and reflect, and it raises ideas and questions about food, energy, consumerism, and more -- sharp teens will find much to think and talk about here. There's some arguing, a struggle, and death; animal lovers will wince at a scene in which a dead yet pregnant deer is found by the side of the road. Language is infrequent but strong, including a few uses of "f--k" and "s--t." At a sauna, several women are seen topless, and there's a suggestion of sex sounds heard outside a trailer (mostly playful giggling). Characters sip beer in one scene, and some brands are briefly mentioned, but mostly in a negative way.

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What's the story?

Three radical environmentalists prepare for the protest of their lives. Josh (Jesse Eisenberg) works on a produce-delivery farm; he's extremely private and pensive. Dena (Dakota Fanning) is a former rich girl disgusted with consumer society. And Harmon (Peter Sarsgaard) is an ex-Marine who seems to love blowing things up. Their target is a hydroelectric dam in Oregon; they hope its destruction will send a message about the rampant devouring of natural resources. Unfortunately, their act has unforeseen consequences, which leaves the trio newly examining their motives, messages, and indeed their very lives.

Is it any good?

Director Kelly Reichardt (Wendy and Lucy, Meek's Cutoff) is one of the smartest around, capable of telling simple stories with great stretches of moody, thoughtful exploration. A frequent criticism is that "nothing happens" in her movies, which, for a patient viewer, simply isn't true. In those quiet scenes, life itself can be found.

Night Moves is one of her most complex works yet, generating a slow-burning suspense. It focuses on characters who are hard to get at and hard to read. In one scene, Josh arrives to discover the sounds of Dena and Harmon inside a trailer giggling playfully. Are they making love? Is he jealous? Reichardt leaves these questions unanswered, using them simply to build tension. The eco-terrorist act itself is likewise confounding, not providing any kind of answer but simply more questions. What did they accomplish? Is a message more important than an idea? Most importantly, however, the concept of human life seems to trump everything.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Night Movesdestructive act of radical environmentalism. Was it right, wrong, or something in between? What if no one had been hurt?

  • How does the movie generate suspense while still moving relatively slowly? What did you see that created tension?

  • What does the movie have to say about food? What ideas did you come away with? Do you enjoy movies that make you think?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love drama

Themes & Topics

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