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Night Moves

Night Moves, 1975

Private investigator, Harry Moseby (Gene Hackman) is hired by a woman named Arlene (Janet Ward) to find and retrieve her wayward step-daughter, Delly (Melanie Griffith). Harry has little trouble tracking Delly down. But things prove to be more complicated than a simple runaway situation, and Harry must contend with feelings of unease about what's really happening in Delly's family.

I'm a fan of both classic detective films and neo-noir type films. I can definitely see why this is considered a great example of a neo-noir. In fact, a line of Harry's right at the end ("I didn't solve anything. It just . . . sort of fell in on me") really sums up the fatalism of the genre.

As the magician detective at the heart of the story, Hackman hits just the right note as a man who is smart enough to figure things out, and smart enough to survive, but who is also clearly walking the line of a kind of despair. A major subplot of the film involves the fact that Harry's wife is being unfaithful to him, with the nature of his work as the main thing that comes between them.

Something that I thought the film handled very well was the character of Delly. She is the very model of the "teenage seductress"---brash, flirtatious, assertive. More than one adult in the film is more than happy to take advantage of her exercise in rebellion. But she is, ultimately, a child. In fact, the progression of Delly's character through the story provides a wonderful counterweight to Harry's seen-it-all weariness. Neither she nor Harry fully appreciates the scope of what they've fallen into.

The plot is also a great example of neo-noir storytelling, where events and characters might be connected, but then again might not. It's the kind of film that both satisfies the detective film desire to see something solved and closure gained, but at the same time posits that so much of what happens is wasteful, needless, and arbitrary. The last act particularly nails this dynamic.

A very solid neo-noir.