Night Moves (USA, 1975)

night-moves-movie-poster-1975-1020204429Directed by: Arthur Penn. Again, my viewing choices were influenced by a film book I was reading at the time, specifically the Robert Kolker book, A Cinema of Loneliness. I had to return it to the library, so I only made it through the first chapter, and I don’t have a firm grasp on his overall thesis. But in his discussion of Arthur Penn, he referred to this movie quite a bit. Penn overall strikes me as one of those guys whose output doesn’t really merit a lengthy discussion alongside Scorsese, Spielberg, even Stone and Fincher, for their impact on American culture. For Penn, it was the incredibly important impact of Bonnie and Clyde, and the curiosity of this movie as an example of impotent, powerless masculine figures in 70’s cinema, and then little else. But I was glad for the excuse to see this movie because I had seen it at the library a few times and always meant to check it out, for pretty silly reasons. First, I like Gene Hackman, and I especially like him as a symbol of ambiguous, murky, moustachioed 70’s leading men. Second, there’s another movie called Night Moves, the recent one with Jesse Eisenberg as an environmental saboteur, and I didn’t want to see it without seeing this one first (for no reason). And also, I just like the title “Night Moves”, and it reminds me of that great Bob Seger jam. But now, the movie itself—this is a pretty good movie, not a great movie. I confess I was sort of half-to-three-quarters watching, and the plot itself kind of didn’t interest me. I think I followed it all right, and it struck me that the “actual” plot, the intrigue, the disappearing girl, the cover-up, the death and flights, etc, all of that is almost self-consciously extraneous, like it sort of sits on top of the movie, and the actual movie is about Gene Hackman and his relationship with his wife, his self-doubt about his ability to crack a case. It’s a very self-conscious “private-eye” movie, and characters are constantly pointing out something about his job, about cracking a case, solving a mystery, collecting clues. The overall impression I got from this movie was that this world of internal family politics, Hollywood b-movies, stuntmen, sexually active underage girls, small Floridian oceanfront houses and night time boat rides, all of that shit is much darker, murkier, tougher to crack, than a typical Raymond Chandler yarn, and Gene Hackman as the protagonist is always just a step or two away from being in way over his head. And lest you think I’m reading too much fancy film shit into this, the film suggests this image literally with the recurring motif of the boat with the glass viewing window in the floor. There’s something spooky about seeing your supposedly fearless, bulletproof protagonist looking down at the endless void, seeing a downed plane with a dead man in it, or a live man slowly drowning and screaming at you as he helplessly sinks away. This recurring image helps create the idea that Hackman, the street-smart PI, is totally clueless—literally, the clues don’t really shed much light. There’s betrayal, there’s death, there’s money, but ultimately he’s out there in the middle of the ocean, injured, impotent, useless, going in circles, and his only virtue is that he can see the void beneath him, he has some awareness of how clueless he is. Jennifer Warren was the leading woman, the interesting take on the femme fatale figure—a fairly independent, inscrutable figure whose motives you don’t really understand, and of course, she gets under Hackman’s skin, fooling him into falling for her for strategic reasons. I guess it’s a pretty paint-by-numbers detective noir yarn, but it’s main fault in my books was a pretty jarring and incongruous sexual dialogue. But maybe that’s just the 70’s sensibility getting lost in translation? Who knows? I wouldn’t call this required viewing by any stretch but it’s pretty interesting if you’re a fan of Hackman and/or moustaches.


3 responses to “Night Moves (USA, 1975)

  1. Pingback: List of Judgements, Anno Domini 2015 | Offhand Reviews·

  2. Pingback: List of Judgements, Anno Domini 2015 | Offhand Reviews·

  3. Pingback: All the President’s Men (USA, 1976) | Offhand Reviews·

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