It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
There's some kind of irony in the release, so close together, of a movie that claims to be inspired by the detective novels of Ross Macdonald -- but isn't -- and one that makes no claims but is a triumph in the Macdonald tradition. The first movie was the weary "The Drowning Pool," in which Paul Newman gave one of his lesser performances. The second is Arthur Penn's "Night Moves," with Gene Hackman subtle and riveting as the private eye.
"Night Moves" is one of the best psychological thrillers in a long time, probably since "Don't Look Now." It has an ending that comes not only as a complete surprise -- which would be easy enough -- but that also pulls everything together in a new way, one we hadn't thought of before, one that's almost unbearably poignant. The movie is the work of a master (Penn's credits include "Bonnie and Clyde" and "Alice's Restaurant"), and yet because of an unhappy booking pattern it's only in a handful of theaters. If you like private eyes, find it.
The eye this time is named Harry Moseby, perhaps with a nod toward Hackman's great performance as Harry Caul in "The Conversation," perhaps not. He's a former pro football player and a man of considerable intelligence, whose wife (Susan Clark) runs an antique business. He's a private detective for reasons, vaguely hinted at, involving his childhood.
A Hollywood divorcee, clinging to the last shreds of a glamor that once won her a movie director (and half the other men in town, she claims) hires him to trace down her missing daughter. Harry takes the case, pausing only long enough to track down his own missing wife -- who is, it turns out, having a not especially important, affair with a man with a beach house in Malibu. His confrontation with the man, like so many scenes in the movie, is done with dialog so blunt in its truthfulness that the characters really do escape their genre.