An eco-terrorist's deep-rooted personal troubles are at the heart of Jesse Eisenberg's latest film, "Night Moves," but don't go digging for any clues to the origins of his torment.

Eisenberg said they simply aren't in the script, nor do they need to be, since his tightly wound character has little insight into his own psychology anyway.

"The Social Network" star plays the taciturn Josh, an environmental activist whose pent-up emotions are intrinsically tied into a plot to blow up a dam.

"He's a dark character, I guess, in that he's somebody who doesn't feel comfortable expressing himself to anybody else," Eisenberg said during a stop at the Toronto International Film Festival last September.

"He buries all of his rage and sadness and anger and pain about the world. I think this is probably somebody who comes from a suburban town on the East Coast and became increasingly frustrated with suburban sprawl, environmental degradation from corporate interests and then becomes radicalized. And then, over the course of the movie, increasingly very violent."

Dakota Fanning co-stars as partner-in-crime Dena, a fierce young activist who bankrolls the operation. Peter Sarsgaard's Harmon rounds out the rebellious trio.

Although she admitted to being far from possessing Dena's militant streak, Fanning said she can understand what it's like to be young and indignant while feeling invincible.

"She thinks that she's going to do something big and bold and speak out against her peer group who she feels is entitled and self-centred and selfish and doesn't see the bigger picture," Fanning said of her character during the same round of interviews.

"I can relate to that and get why she feels that way. But I can also see another side. But it's difficult when you are playing a character. It's really important not to judge them."

The Oregon-set drama screened last September in Toronto on the heels of winning the grand prize at the Deauville American Film Festival in France.

Director Kelly Reichardt said she'd been keen to return to Oregon after shooting her acclaimed period drama "Meek's Cutoff" there, and sought locations through a combination of scouting and camping she called "scamping."

Much of the action takes place on an organic farm where Josh works, and Reichardt said she was fascinated with exploring the nuts-and-bolts of farming.

That's in addition to justice issues surrounding environmental radicals and the explosive relationships that can emerge between people.

"We were interested in people as individuals versus people in a group dynamic and how that shifts," said Reichardt, who splits her time between Oregon and New York, where she teaches at Bard College.

"How people are when they're by themselves, a character like Josh ... versus how is he when he interacts in a group."

Eisenberg said Josh "thinks of himself as a soldier in a war," but has little capacity for introspection, calling him "an enigma to himself." He admitted to having a propensity to deeply analyse his characters, no matter what's on the page.

"My dad's PhD is in social psychology. My degree is anthropology. I always think of things in terms of, like, people's individual psychology having some kind of effect in a mass way. For example, within a group or within a society," said the Oscar-nominated actor, who also writes and stages plays in New York.

"You know — somebody becomes president because they have a need for power and somebody becomes a criminal because they are rebelling against a father who never gave them attention. Everybody's dealing with their own personal things. It becomes very dangerous when you inflict that kind of personal vendetta against people that have nothing to do with it."

"Night Moves" opens Friday in Vancouver and in Toronto at TIFF Bell Lightbox, then will continue to other cities through August and September.

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