Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

The title is reused from an earlier production. Night Moves came out in 1975, starring Gene Hackman, This is a later production with no similarity to the prior. Night Moves was released in 2013 and doesn’t have the star power. It’s a low-key story about environmental terrorism with people getting killed. I caught it on Hulu. Details are from Wikipedia.

Josh (Jesse Eisenberg) and Dena (Dakota Fanning) are two environmentally conscious twenty-somethings, and they check out a dam across a small river in Oregon. They dam is an environmental monstrosity in their view. The lack of a fish ladder prevents salmon from swimming upstream to spawn. It needs to come down. They have a plan.


Dena is from amazing wealth, and $10,000 cash allows the to purchase a boat. We can guess what they plan to do with the boat. The catch phrase could be something like “boat, bomb, dam: some assembly required.” The name of the boat is Night Moves, hence the title.


Josh has a friend Harmon (Peter Sarsgaard). Harmon is a former Marine, and he knows how to build the bomb. Dena is leery of Harmon He’s prone to be loose with facts. Over lunch at a fast food table they discuss the destruction of the dam.


The plan incurs the purchase of an extra 500 pounds of ammonium nitrate fertilizer. Harmon already has 1000 pounds, but figures an additional 500 pounds will ensure success. Post Timothy McVeigh, the stuff is a controlled substance. There is intrigue as Dena weasels her way toward making the purchase at a country feed store.

The plot begins in earnest as the trio mix fuel oil with the fertilizer to make the explosive. They strip out the luxury boat and pack the hull with bags of the mixture. Then they head to the lake. There is additional intrigue as they attempt to be nonchalant, parking at a campsite on the lake and waiting for night to launch. It seems to them everything they do attracts unwanted attention.


The plan is successful. They park the boat against the dam and set a timer, making their way back to camp in a canoe. On-time, there is a loud boom in the distance,  and police cars are soon speeding  past them on the country road. At a police check point, Josh and Dena show their fake IDs and pass through.

Of course, things have not gone as expected. A camper downstream of the dam has been killed, and it’s a murder case, as well. Also bad is the reaction of their environmental movement friends. The dam is only one of a hundred and makes no difference in the overall picture. What is needed is not the destruction of dams but the winning of popular support for the cause. Police come prowling around, and tension grows. Josh loses his job because of the suspicion surrounding him.

Jena comes completely apart. The trio are supposed to have no further contact, but recriminations fly between cell phones, a dangerous trend. Despondent, Dena plots suicide, but Josh confronts her, demanding she cease inviting attention. Dena orders Josh to leave, and he panics. He kills her and hints at it in a phone call with Harmon. Harmon advises Josh to get very lost.

The movie ends with Josh applying for a job in  a distant sporting goods store. Security cameras about the store remind Josh that in today’s society it is impossible for a person to get completely lost.


The movie is devoid of dramatic action, possibly with the exception of when Josh strangles Dena. Technical details show a lack of authenticity. For example, the three park the boat next to the dam, but they don’t sink it. 1500 pounds of ammonium nitrate explosive might blow off the top of the dam, but it won’t topple the dam. To bring down the dam the explosion has to go off under water and at the base of the dam.

This is well known to anybody who has seen The Dam Busters. It’s a true-to-life film about an operation the Brits carried out in World War Two. The trick was to drop bombs into lakes behind three German dams. The bombs had to skip along the water until they bumped up against the dam. Then the bombs would sink and explode at the base of the dams. It worked, but with the loss of a third of the aircraft involved. If I can get a copy of the movie I will do a review.


One thought on “Bad Movie Wednesday

  1. Pingback: Bad Movie Wednesday | Skeptical Analysis

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