Joe (Jesse Eisenberg), Harmon (Peter Sarsgaard) and Dena (Dakota Fanning) are planning to blow up a dam as an act of eco-rebellion to save nature. *** SPOILER ALERT!: they do this deed but someone is killed further down the lake as a result. They drift apart, conscience bothers them and there is a murder. ***
This is a terrifying film which shows the effect of conscience on the doers of a well meaning but lethally botched deed. For me, this could be an excellent pilot film for a series showing how the effects of conscience corrode Joe’s mind. It could be more gripping than The Fugitive in that the running, in this case, is from the ordeals of a bad conscience and the denouement could be the paranoid disintegration of a mind in an ordeal of signs of threat, or possible threat. It explores the degeneration of misguided idealism into simple terrorism. The recriminations amongst the perpetrators kill any initial moral certainty. Reichardt made Meek’s Cut Off, another film about failed trust, and here Joe slowly and convincingly descends into murderous self protection. The entire film seems to be shot in a gloomy dusk or dawn, as if daylight is almost unbearable for the conscience. Harmon is self possessed and competent, and keeps his cool even when before the deed he is recognized by a waiter who is an ex-con. Dena keeps her cool under the suspicious interrogations of the seller of fertilizer, knowing that this crucial circumstantial evidence of a purchase of the stuff used for explosives could damn them all. As with any such tightly knit conspiracy, all outsiders are considered as innocent fools or potential enemies and this conspiratoralism already corrupts their relationships, as if trust gives way to the vigilante logic of group survival. Dena’s feelings for Josh are mixed with her remorse and there are terrible consequences. The conscience-stricken slow panic accentuates the suspicion about their motives in the first place.