Friday, June 12, 2009

Film Review: NIGHT MOVES (1975, Arthur Penn)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 100 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Gene Hackman, James Woods, Melanie Griffith, Dennis Dugan,(NORMAN...IS THAT YOU?, THE TOUGHEST MAN IN THE WORLD), writer Alan Sharp.
Tag-lines: "What private eye Harry Moseby doesn't know about the girl he's looking for... just might get him killed."
Best one-liner:"He'd fuck a woodpile on the chance there was a snake in it."

"Who's winning?" "Nobody. One side is just losing slower than the other." Arthur Penn's NIGHT MOVES is one in a slew of neo-noir character studies that hit Hollywood from, say, 1967-1981 (including POINT BLANK, THE LONG GOODBYE, THE OUTFIT, CHINATOWN, THE DRIVER, CUTTER'S WAY, BODY HEAT, etc.). NIGHT MOVES isn't really one of the ABSOLUTE best of these, with extraordinarily high standards being set by the likes of Polanski and Altman, but it's a very solid movie. The script by Alan Sharp (THE HIRED HAND, DAMNATION ALLEY) is witty, fast, and rather Samuel Beckett by-way-of Raymond Chandler. The acting is top-notch, as well: our depressed, cuckolded, ex-football player private eye hero, Gene Hackman, like always, has incredible presence and depth.

As one of the cogs in the noir-plot machine, a very young, very slimy James Woods shines, as does Melanie Griffith, also in one of her first roles.

There's not a great deal of 'action,' in the traditional sense, but NIGHT MOVES is at it's best when the former Broadway director Penn is in "play" mode and the plot is slowly unfolding like a chamber piece (as when Hackman joins the "family" unit living in the Florida Keys).

It all leads up to a denouement that is as existentially devastating as it is shockingly abrupt, with one final grotesquely beautiful image involving the view from a glass-bottomed boat. Overall, a very well done film with an atmosphere that is sometimes undermined by peculiar choices in upbeat music, and, oddly, in terms of critical longevity, it seems that NIGHT MOVES is destined to be primarily remembered for it's oft-quoted, off-handed barb about the films of Eric Rohmer. Four stars.

-Sean Gill

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