You don’t need more characters when Gene Hackman is around.
Night Moves was unknown to me until last night when I found it in an old collection of DVDs. Actually, now it’s shameful but true that I had never heard of this film. Feeling somewhat guilty, I felt like duty bounded to watch it immediately. Gene Hackman as Harry Moseby plays an old styled private investigator whose wife constantly tries to persuade him to join a bigger agency but Harry is happy as the lone ranger in his own agency innovatively named ‘Moseby Confidential’. In his latest case, he has to bring back a 16-year-old girl to her mother, a small time, aging actress Arlene Iverson (Janet Ward). Arlene is two times divorced and her only source of income is the trust fund that her first husband formed in the name of their daughter, Delly Grastner (Melanie Griffith). Harry starts the investigation with interviewing one of Delly’s friends Quentin (James Woods), a mechanic. From here the story is straight forward leading to the girl. Quentin directs Harry to a stuntman Marv; there he meets stunts coördinator Joey who recognizes Harry as a football player. Harry was a player in his young days. He finally finds the girl with his stepfather Tom and a somewhat mysterious woman named Paula who pretends to be the maid. Harry befriends them and on a boat trip to the mid-oceans, they find an airplane with a dead body in it. The body is unidentifiable. The following morning Harry returns the girl to her mother. Thereafter things start to happen. After all, what is a detective film without murders?
Meanwhile, Harry, purely by chance, comes to know that his wife is having an affair. But he is cool as he always is. By this time, I had a strange feeling that whatever is happening I completely don’t understand and ironically I found Harry sitting beside me and wondering what the hell is happening. This is the cleverness of a brilliant writing. The hero is as clueless as the audience. Every time you are sure something is going to happen, nothing happens and when you are relaxed, it surprises you. Our detective is not super smart and stylish as Philip Marlowe; he is a common man with an uncommon job. He can be easily trapped and that he proves in this film.
Delly is killed in a car accident that Joey was driving during a film shoot. Quentin is also found dead at Tom’s place. And as I said earlier our detective is not as smart as he should be, he apparently doesn’t solve the case. Frankly, I am not sure whether the case was solved or not. It’s totally up to you what you deduct. The game becomes bigger but our Harry, Gene Hackman is cool as always and this coolness doesn’t come from the character but from the man himself. Sometimes I wonder while watching him does he ever tries to act because every time he simply lives the character without any visible effort. I do not know why this film is little known and on further searching I found its name in Michael Sargow’s list titled ‘Produced and Abandoned: The Best Films You have Never Seen’. It is director Arthur Penn’s best work after Bonnie and Clyde. This is a well-structured detective thriller that has become a rarity these days. Keeping characters close to reality in a detective film is a tough task and Penn has never used melodrama to convey things. The screenplay by Alan Sharp is as sharp and real as his name. The dialogues are timeless and can be used as quotes; in fact, I think one of Harry’s dialogues that he delivers when declining an invitation to watch My Night at Maud’s, “I saw a Rohmer film once. It was kinda like watching paint dry” is often used as a quote.
You should watch this film, its good. And I am sure that you will love to solve this mystery. Some critics say a single viewing is not enough to understand what just happened. You better take the challenge. And I want you to know that I don’t give a damn whether it follows a classic noir model or not.