Sunday, November 30, 2014
Night Moves (1975), directed by Arthur Penn, finds Hackman once again as a detective, this time a private investigator on the trail of a has-been Hollywood actress's runaway daughter (a teenaged Melanie Griffith, not that that stops her from getting undressed fairly frequently), and he discovers things aren't as cut-and-dry as they appear to be. That's a similar setup to many film noirs over the years, dating back to the genre's golden period in the 1940s and 1950s. Hackman's PI, retired football player Harry Moseby, fashions himself as one of those old-time PIs like Sam Spade or Phillip Marlowe: he has his own office, prefers his independence to working for a company, talks tough, doesn't mind getting his hands dirty, and doesn't like being played the fool by anyone. When he realizes there's some serious monkey business going on with this case, he won't rest until he gets to the bottom of it.
However, there is a difference between Moseby and those other detectives: he never really figures anything out. People wind up dead for reasons he can't quite grasp, and in the film's valedictory image, a wounded Moseby, stranded on a boat out on the ocean, can only circle endlessly, a metaphor for his ineffectiveness. Night Moves resembles Robert Altman's The Long Good Bye more than it does Roman Polanski's Chinatown; it's almost a parody of the detective genre by showing just how out of touch and outdated these old gumshoes really are, and Hackman's grit only enhances the point. Instead of getting closer to the truth, Moseby keeps missing it.
I'm sure if I watched the film three or four more times and took careful notes, I could piece everything together, but at least I don't share the same distraction Moseby has. This private eye, a professional who makes it his business to know other people's business, discovers his wife Ellen (Susan Clark) is cheating on him with a man named Marty Heller (Harris Yulin). Can you imagine the wife of a detective played by Humphrey Bogart cheating on him? Moseby tries to be the tough, hard-bitten detective of the Bogart mold, but he's not as good at it, professionally or personally.