MOVIE REVIEWS

Night Moves (1975)

7/10 R 01 hr 35 min

June 11, 1975

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Take a swing at me Harry the way Sam Spade would.

Night Moves is directed by Arthur Penn and written by Alan Sharp. It stars Gene Hackman, Jennifer Warren, Susan Clark, James Woods, Melanie Griffith, Edward Binns, Harris Yulin, Kenneth Mars and Janet Ward. Music is by Michael Small and cinematography by Bruce Surtees.

Former footballer turned private detective in Los Angeles Harry Moseby (Hackman), gets hired by an ageing actress to track down her trust-funded daughter Delly Grastner (Griffith), who is known to be in Florida. With his own personal life shaken by his wife's infidelity, Harry dives into the Grasten case with determination. Unfortunately nothing is as it first seems and it's not long before Harry is mired in murky goings on...

It sounds kind of bleak. Or is it just the way you tell it?

The locale is often bright and sunny but that's about the only thing that is in this excellent neo-noir. Harking back, and doffing its cap towards, the noir detective films of the classic cycle, Night Moves is ripe with characters who are either dubious or damaged. Protagonist Harry Moseby is thrust into a melancholic world that he has no control over, but he doesn't know this fact. As the mystery at the core of the dense plot starts to unravel, there's a bleakness, a 1970s air of cynicism, that pervades the narrative. Culminating in a finale that's suitably dark and ambiguous.

Harry thinks if you call him Harry again he's gonna make you eat that cat!

Alan Sharp's (Ulzana's Raid) terrific screenplay is appropriately as sharp as a razor. Dialogue is often hardboiled or zinging with wit, and the conversations come with sadness or desperation. Be it chatter about a fateful chess move, sexual enlightenment or the pains of childhood and bad parenting, Sharp's writing provides fascinating characters operating in a tense thriller environment.

Listen Delly, I know it doesn't make much sense when you're sixteen. Don't worry. When you get to be forty, it isn't any better.

Arthur Penn brilliantly threads it all together, as he hones a great performance out of Hackman and notable turns from the support players, he smoothly blends action with pulsing unease. There's nudity on show, but in Penn's hands it is never used for gratuitous purpose, it represents dangerous fantasies or dented psyches. Small's jazzy score is a fine tonal accompaniment, and Surtees' Technicolor photography provides deft mood enhancements for the interior and exterior sequences.

Biting and bitter, Night Moves is essential neo-noir. 9/10

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