Monday, August 4, 2008

Night Moves

"Night Moves" (Arthur Penn, 1977) Harry Moseby (Gene Hackman) is your classic detective as tarnished knight. A lone-wolf ex-jock who plays the cards he's dealt and holds them close to the vest. Nobody gets in, not his wife, not his clients, not even his acquaintances. To accentuate the point, Director Arthur Penn surrounds Harry with glass and view-screens. He's a detective--a peeper--and he's always peering through thosee wind-shields, portals, and glass-bottomed boats at the world, though a little filtered, a little distorted. They are part of his job, but as they also provide him a view, they are also a hinderance...and a refuge. He can look through these transparent barriers, but he can't touch. And no one can get through to him. Frequently--so frequently you can't miss their use--the windows have one of those distorting fish-eye aplliques that bend and distort the world in a round, limited circle--a fish-bowl--appropriate for someone so myopic as Harry.

Harry's a loner, so much so that he won't take a job at an information mill because it's "not for him." And he's got a big mouth but just enough suppression instinct that the one it hurts the most is him, and a snide sense of humor that rubs the wrong way. He's so set in his ways that this old dog that won't learn new tricks has begun to chase his own tail. He's investigating himself, or rather, his wife, who's been stepping out on him. When he exposes the affair, everybody involved throws Harry's history back at him, something he avoids at all costs. He's more comfortable analyzing other people's problems to look at his own.

The screenplay is by
Alan Sharp, and Harry is another solitary guy on a "last run," at a cross-roads that he'll turn after he's done one more job. He'll quit while he's ahead. But his timing is a bit off. The movie starts just as this one case begins: a dirt-job for an aging starlet whose slut of a daughter (Melanie Griffith) has run off to the step-father. It's a family in the Chandler-mystery mode, good money can't hide bad blood-lines. Mom wants her back, but not out of some familial bond. She just wants the child-support. So, Moseby takes a long trip to Florida to try and convince the kid to do something neither of them thinks is a good idea: Go back. And, as in Chandler, that case is just the tip of a dangerous ice-berg, one that improves Harry's vision, but only with 20/20 hind-sight.

When I first saw "Night Moves"--back when it played theaters, I was unimpressed. Now, seeing it at an older age, it looks like a masterpiece, the understated classic that some have said it was. The movie hasn't changed...but I have, and I appreciate the issues in it, and see it with a much better clarity than when I was younger. Getting old does that. I'm just lucky enough to be getting

No comments: