Movie Review: Night Moves (1975)
“Maybe he would find the girl… maybe he would find himself.”
Night Moves (1975)
Director: Arthur Penn
Cast: Gene Hackman, Jennifer Warren, Edward Binns
Synopsis: Los Angeles private detective Harry Moseby stumbles upon a case of murder and artefact smuggling when he’s hired by a client to find her runaway teenage daughter.
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Gene Hackman (Unforgiven, Enemy of the State) plays Harry Moseley, a typically down-at-heel private detective, who, because of his preoccupation with his cheating spouse, misses or misreads all the clues in an impossibly convoluted case. It initially appears straightforward: locate and bring back the runaway teenage daughter of the slatternly, alcoholic wife of a movie producer. He finds the daughter – a precocious Melanie Griffith – easily enough, but when she then turns up murdered he realises there’s more to the situation than he originally suspected.
It’s all a bit confusing, as if director Arthur Penn and writer Alan Sharp aren’t too concerned about how the mystery plays out just as long as the developments contribute to the filling out of Harry Moseley’s character. Like us, Harry’s in the dark about what’s really going on, a pawn in the hands of the other players. The title is a play on words; at one point Harry describes a 1922 chess game in which the sacrifice of a queen results in check by knight in three moves. Only the chess player failed to see the move and lost the match. At the end of the film, a wounded Harry lies wounded and helpless in a boat travelling in circles. The parallels are clear, but there’s little else that makes much sense.
Nevertheless, there are plenty of good things about the film. It possesses that unmistakable atmosphere of 1970s crime movies, a kind of jaded, cynical outlook that suggests the sleaze is all around us, but just out of view. Gene Hackman gives a first class performance as the hapless detective. The editing, though, is a little too abrupt for comfort and seems to belong in a less accomplished movie.
(Reviewed 7th February 2012)