Director: Arthur Penn
Writer: Alan Sharp
Cinematographer: Bruce Surtees
by Jon Cvack
Continued from Part 1 of 2...
The largest issue is that the film feels entirely too 70s. I’ve mentioned it before, but PTA said him and the costume designer had to restrain themselves from being too true to the year for Inherent Vice, as the fashion would look like an exaggeration. Night Moves proves this to be true. It seems to so heavily honor the exact, present year it took place in that everyone’s wardrobe and the places they live look antiquated to the point of parody. And it makes me wonder if it’s because the costume designers on these shoots were told to utilize the present styles rather than providing a general flavor of the styles; as though they’re using the trendiest clothes instead of finding what others might wear as an alternative, more muted style.
There is a strange and uncomfortable Pulanskish fetishizing of the sixteen year old girl Delly Grastner (Melanie Griffith). Although the situation was wildly uncomfortable, knowing she was underage and being molested, Arthur Penn nevertheless objectified her in wearing tight outfits, which slowly through the remaining half, came off more and more. The girl is attractive (I’m saying this knowing Griffith was of age while filming; seee note below*), but when when I kept recalling the fact I started feeling more and more creepy. This isn’t to criticize Arthur Penn (though the objectification of an underage girl is gross and unwarranted), so much as raises a second ethical issue in that no matter what conclusion you come to with the above situation, Arthur Penn was trying to be honest with the material. I assume some sixteen year girls might be more developed and sexually open compared to others her age and Penn was simply portraying that. But then - why work with such uncomfortable material at all? This seems an example where an equally intricate plot without the pedophilia could have and might have worked a bit better.
It also just didn’t look that great. I suppose I could blame this on the DVD and a bad conversion, and maybe the Blu Ray would look better, but I still have my doubts of any improvement, with maybe an exception of the closing scene. The film grew on me by the midpoint, as the piling on of characters leveled off and I accepted the strange 70s look for what it was. Still, there is a great and original moment as we watch Harry and Ellen’s relationship. Contrary to the trope, Harry is married, and seems to genuinely love his wife. Combined with a hardboiled attitude it’s set up for disaster, as he catches his wife cheating on him. In one amazing scene, he heads over to his wife’s new lover’s house, seeing the two glasses of wine, and hearing muffled sounds coming from the bedroom. There’s a pain that Hackman expresses that seems very real, as though he knows there’s no one else he could be with, or would want to be with him. All he can do is accept the situation. Of course, Penn kind of makes us lose our sympathy when he sleeps with Delly’s surrogate mom Paula (Jennifer Warren; who looks exceptionally 1970s-like, which I’m struggling to understand how this works, functioning very much as “I know it when I see”).
The best part of film noir is how much more confusing and dark the stories get as we head down the rabbit hole. There are dark moments in Night Moves, but I think Penn distracted us with too many other things - the 1970s Florida setting; the marriage; Delly’s oversexualization. In Chinatown, we witness and feel the bleakness. Night Moves never goes that far. Still, it’s worth seeing for Hackman and the closing action sequence alone.
*Such a plot point raises an interesting ethical problem with sexualizing underage girls in film - is it right to ask an eighteen year old girl to pretend she’s sixteen in such a salacious role, as because she’s eighteen, she can elect to get naked, yet while acting like an underage girl; and thus, while men might think she’s of age, they’re willing to either a) forget she’s sixteen and acknowledge her beauty as an adult (a sign of a bad movie if one were to lose their suspension of disbelief), or b) you don’t suspend your disbelief, but actually think the girl is sixteen and attractive, thus asking viewers to participate in some strange near or mild pornographic/pedophilic fantasy.
BELOW: Some dude talking about Night Moves on Turner Classic Movies. I can't find much else.
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