Even by the standards of noir, Night Moves is harsh

Even by the standards of noir, Night Moves is harsh

Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: Michael Bay’s Pain & Gain has us reflecting on other Florida crime movies.

Night Moves (1975)
Released less than a year after Nixon’s resignation, Night Moves doubles down on the feeling of despair and betrayal that was already at the heart of film noir, as if mindful of the national mood. Its dubious hero, a retired football player turned private dick (Gene Hackman), spends nearly as much time investigating his own marriage as he does tracking down a washed-up actress’ flighty daughter (Melanie Griffith, so young she looks downright cherubic), who’s run off with a stuntman to the Florida Keys. Everything Hackman uncovers just leads him further into a cesspool of corruption and creepy sex (“He’d fuck a woodpile on the chance there was a snake in it,” we learn of one character), leading to a conclusion that’s strikingly bleak even for this genre—grotesque irony as sick joke. 

Night Moves tends to get filed away as an Arthur Penn movie, and it arguably concludes the string of classics he kicked off eight years earlier with Bonnie and Clyde. But it’s also recognizably the vision of screenwriter Alan Sharp, who passed away just a couple of months ago and was also responsible for such uncompromising pictures as Ulzana’s Raid (directed by Robert Aldrich) and The Hired Hand (directed by Peter Fonda). Here, Sharp simultaneously honors and subverts the conventions of the private-eye flick, teasing out tantalizing story strands but restricting the audience’s perspective to that of the film’s generally clueless protagonist. He also gives Hackman one of the greatest roles of the actor’s storied career: a belligerent, proud, dangerously resourceful hunk of misdirected tenacity. At one point, the man likens watching an Eric Rohmer movie to watching paint dry, by way of asserting his masculinity. It’s a funny line, but also ironic; Rohmer’s contradictory, messed-up, deeply human characters would surely recognize a kindred spirit.

Availability: A less-than-lavish DVD release from Warner Bros., which can be acquired through Netflix; and rental or purchase from the major digital services.

More Watch This