Losing the slowest

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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.

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2 thoughts on “Losing the slowest

  1. Agreed – a definite gem. I’d say it’s the most successful contemporary noir of the 70s. From a brilliant script by Alan ‘Rob Roy’ Sharp, whose subsequent career is surprisingly mid-range (e.g., well, Rob Roy, which is his most prominent recent credit). Talking of career fall-offs, how about the intriguing Jennifer Warren, who went on to star in the unsuccessful American pilot of Carla Lane’s ‘Butterflies’ – a pilot on which James Burrows for once couldn’t deliver his definite-pick-up magic… But that’s all fluff. Night Moves is a genuine must-see for any aficio-noir-do.

  2. An American version of Butterflies? The information stirs up such a maelstrom in me, that my gut reaction is to type: I HATE CARLA LANE. Because basically that’s what all my thoughts boil down to.

    I like to imagine James Buurows wearily dispensing advice to an oblivious Carla a la Valerie Cherish. And not just Burrows either, she managed to drag down dawn-of-sitcom legend Milt Josefsberg too.

    Tell you one thing that would have been good about it, a no-doubt souped up discofied version of the theme tune, by Stephanie Mills in a perfect world.

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