In her most accessible, most mainstream film to date director Kelly Reichardt (and writing collaborator Jonathan Raymond) turns in a thriller with an A-List cast but still manages to keep her own unique brand of story-telling.
Eisenberg, Fanning and Sarsgaard are eco warriors planning to blow a hydro dam at a nearby lake. Fanning is new to the party, using ‘daddy's money', as Sarsgaard bluntly puts it, to buy the titular speedboat the gang will stuff full of explosives and float close to the dam wall. Her know-it-all sarcasm is tolerated by Sarsgaard, who is mildly amused/attracted to her, but she irritates Eisenberg's super serious activist and this slight touchiness sows the seeds of distrust and tension later…
Reichardt and Raymond, as usual, let things unfold in their own good time, with all the attention-grabbing developments coming too far into spoiler territory to divulge above. So to keep the audience occupied in the incident-light opening half Reichardt develops character and takes us step-by-step through the planning - the buying of the boat, the ammonium nitrate fertilizer, the mixing and packing it into bags, packing the boat with same, etc - which oddly creates tension. And she's just as meticulous in the fallout of the mission, getting right into the head of Eisenberg as paranoia and fear slowly worm their way into his psyche.
Jesse Eisenberg has the perfect face. Just standing there Eisenberg can portray loneliness, desperation, worry, some other internal torment, and fear. Handy then, as this role calls for of those. Moving from the focussed by cold and calculated guy who slides a dead doe, its unborn baby still alive, off the road and down a ravine at the opening of the film to the paranoid mess he morphs into, Eisenberg has rarely been better.
Opting to explore his story, when one thousand and one filmmakers would have chosen Fanning's more obvious arc (her right-on confidence reveals itself to be the naive bluster of a rich girl slumming it) is what makes Reichardt Reichardt. She delights too in stripping down a heroic righteous cause into the same instinct for survival that any corporate suit would have. We're all made of the same stuff when it comes down to it.
The third act leans a little on convention but this new Reichardt/Raymond direction is easy to get on board with.