I caught Arthur Penn’s Night Moves last night at the Cine Lumiere, an overlooked gem to close out their American Friends mini-season. Criminally unavailable in this country on DVD, it was a rare treat to watch Gene Hackman given the opportunity to stretch out and inhabit a movie worthy of his talent, his performance a series of beautfully executed sullen whispers and growls rather than the full on punch on the nose you get with, say, Popeye Doyle.
A coal-black noir, despite its sunny setting, Greenock’s own Alan Sharp succeeds in turning the genre on its head, questioning the fundamentals at the heart of the fiction of the private eye. Although bearing a passing resemblence to Altman’s retelling of The Long Goodbye with its whip-smart one-liners, it’s nowhere near as cocksure or deliberately modern, rather it is a succession of all-too-real fumbles, mistakes and shortcomings in the character of Moseby, Hackman’s long-suffering, but stubbornly unobservant dick, who’s more prone to comfort eating than downing a neat whisky.
We never get the sense that Moseby has either the passion or the ability to do his job, and by the time the credits roll, the price paid for this lack of focus is made painfully clear, his moral ambiguity not a symptom of naked ambition but rather a distinct lack of it. If you can get your hands on it, do. It’s no Chinatown, but sits proudly in the pantheon of accomplished and original anti-movies of the period such as The Parallax View, Charley Varrick and Penn’s own Bonnie and Clyde as pictures that give us exquisitely drawn characters drowning in the downbeat poetry of life’s uncertainty.