As I've spouted about before on this blog, and in a lot of the online and offline writing I've engaged in over the last 25 years, I came of age totally marinated in, and obsessed with, 1970s film. Most of my favorite movies came from that decade (many of which were viewed on our awesome 70s early-cable film station "The G Channel" in the late 70s) and I'm trying to plug all of the holes in my 70s film "resume" before I shuffle off this mortal coil. Long on my "list", as it were, is Arthur Penn's 1975 film "NIGHT MOVES", which I've been told multiple times in no uncertain terms is one of the best films of its era. (It also figured in this recent book I read, which helped prod me to finally rent it). While I did in fact finally get around to renting it, and enjoyed it just fine, I might also offer the heretical opinion that it's a decidedly second-tier 70s film and even a bit derivative. Ahem.
"NIGHT MOVES" is a showcase for Gene Hackman, and like Robert Altman's Philip Marlowe in 1973's "The Long Goodbye", he's a low-rent, oddball detective who figures in just about every scene in the film. Hackman gets called to investigate a missing sexpot teenage daughter by her mother, a wealthy, faded Hollywood actress right out of central casting. Meanwhile, with his own marriage unraveling, he finds that the trail to and beyond the daughter (played by a young Melanie Griffith, and whom he finds and apprehends pretty quickly) grows more confusing and shadowy the deeper he digs. Because he's in a bit of a hard place himself, vis-a-vis his wife, he gets hooked into this case and finds that he's biting off a lot more than he can chew. Like Penn's classic "Bonnie & Clyde", this too has a bad ending, full of carnage and not a whole lot of redemption and learning. Very 70s, very bleak and pretty satisfying as it goes.
I thought Hackman was great, and the strange performance put in by Jennifer Warren as Paula (what a nutball!) is terrific. Yet I don't feel this film is strong enough to capture the "zeitgeist" of anything well. Marital relations? Other films of this era show disintegrating marriages far better. As a weirdo noir, which it really is, more or less, I'd take the earlier "Long Goodbye" any day - that film too even has a crusty old boozer and his strange wife, just as this one does, to go along with the frustrated, just-getting-by detective. I guess when this film starts closing in on its ending orgy of violence and pathos, I felt like I'd kind of seen films that unfolded and closed in exactly this manner already. Seeing "Night Moves" felt more like "checking the box" than I wanted it to. Perhaps you should tell me why I'm wrong in the comments, if you're so inclined.