Night Moves (Arthur Penn, 1975)Harry Moseby (Gene Hackman) is a retired professional football player working as a private investigator in Los Angeles. He is dedicated to his job, but is also following his wife Ellen (Susan Clark) because she and a man named Marty Heller (Harris Yulin) are having an affair.
Aging actress Arlene Iverson (Janet Ward) hires Harry to find her trust-funded daughter Delly Grastner (Melanie Griffith), distracting Harry from his marital problems. Harry goes to a Hollywood film set to interview a stuntman he knows, Ziegler (Edward Binns), about an unsolved death during the shooting of a film, and a mechanic, Quentin (James Woods), who knew the lascivious teen Delly before she took off for Florida.
Often cited as Arthur Penn’s unsung masterpiece Night Moves is shadowed by the elegant and revolutionary, filmmaking-wise, Bonnie and Clyde. Reminiscent of Chinatown, released in 1974, Penn’s film is a superb neo-noir thriller that presents a Gene Hackman in the title role as great as his presence in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation. Since his death, Arthur Penn’s films gained much respect from the critics and cinephiles. It is very interesting however to discover his most unknown masterpiece. It is subtle but so efficient that one cannot get their eyes off the screen. Just like Moseby, we have to know what happened and why.
Penn respected many of the film noir’s codas and filmed in a contemporary environment it could be a little unsettling for the audience of the time it was released. It does not involve chases or much violence. But its themes and story are rich and involve a mystery that only the tip was at our sight at first.
It was not a successful movie at the box-office when released, but gained much respect later with critics and film buffs. One of the most interesting aspects of it his its protagonist who has not a happy life. His wife cheats on him and he has weaknesses that not much men would be eager to share. It was probably difficult to identify with this man since he is not the typical hero like Humphrey Bogart was rough, tough, and used violence to get what he wanted. There’s a sensibility in Penn’s film that few noirs have achieved. As if it was a question that would solve his life problems if he solved this case.
In conclusion, this lesser known thriller from Arthur Penn deserves to be more recognized by film lovers and should enter into more canons of cinema. This is a unique film that plays on the subtle level of great stories and brilliant storytelling. This is how you make a working neo-noir film and a great lesson of filmmaking.