Harry Moseby (Gene Hackman) is a retired football player turned private eye. He doesn't handle big, important cases, or even cases that leave him with a moderately clean feeling, but he likes the idea of his work. His devotion to the job doesn't win him any fans at home; his wife, Ellen (Susan Clark), is having an affair. Of course, Harry finds out --- he's an investigator, after all --- and he's devastated. As luck would have it, Harry can postpone the dreaded "we need to talk" moment with his wife by taking a case for an over-the-hill Hollywood sexpot. She wants Harry to track down her runaway daughter, the unfortunately named Delly (Melanie Griffith), and is so concerned over her daughter's well-being that she flirts mercilessly with Harry. Harry does some digging, and learns that the sixteen year-old Delly is a notorious tramp. She ran away from home with a Hollywood mechanic, Quentin (James Woods), then ran into the pelvic thrust of a douchebag stunt driver, and then ran to her stepfather's (John Crawford) home in Florida. Just because he found the girl doesn't mean that Harry knows what he's doing. The longer he spends on this case, the less straightforward it seems, proving that even a smart man like Harry can still be very, very wrong.
|Yeah, that's kind of how I felt when the movie ended, too.|
Night Moves was far from a critical or financial success upon its 1975 release, but the seventies were a strange time in the film industry, filled with new film styles and abrupt endings. Whatever the reasons for its initial failure, Night Moves has grown more appreciated over time, thanks largely to the great and subtle performance of Gene Hackman. I don't even know how to give his performance a just summary; he's smart, but easily fooled; he's physically tough, but emotionally tender; he's very reserved at times, but brash at others. The best thing about Hackman's performance is how believable it is. The rest of the cast is good, too. Jennifer Warren is surprisingly good as a person of (romantic) interest in the case; this kind of complex supporting role is a shoe-in nowadays for an Oscar nomination. I'm not quite sure how believable her attraction to the men in this film is, but people were often ugly in the seventies.
|It's easy to be infatuated with Gene Hackman when his face is obscured by a tree trunk.|
|Where did all the swollen face lumps go?|
The script by Alan Sharp and the direction by Arthur Penn do the rest of the work. And work, they do! This is a phenomenal script. It is rare to have a script filled with clever (and non-zinger) lines, but this one is very nuanced in how it advances the plot and gives compelling glimpses into the minds of the characters. I look forward to watching this movie a second time; I have the feeling that many of the lines will have new meanings, now that I have seen the ending. Arthur Penn did a great job working with this script and the actors. It is rare for a movie to be enjoyable and confusing at the same time, but Penn manages to get multi-layered line readings from the entire cast, filled with shades of grey, and he has the guts to provide a conclusion that asks a question.
|Whatever happens here, I doubt that it's happy.|
When this movie finished, I wasn't particularly impressed. Sure, I acknowledged the talent of in-his-prime Hackman, but I was left a little cold by the ending. It's confusing, to put it mildly. A funny thing happened as I started to summarize the plot in my head, though; I started to reflect on the many instances where Harry was wrong, even when I (as a viewer) assumed he would be right. That got me thinking about other parts of the movie, and I began to appreciate the non-sequitors in the dialogue and the depth they gave the plot. Can I explain the whys of this story? Absolutely not, but I can accurately describe the plot. It's easy to understand what happened, but understanding the why is what makes this one special. I'm going to give this a moderate rating now, but I think I'll bump it up whenever I decide to watch it again. It's a grower that I look forward to discussing at length with friends.