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Former football player and present private detective Harry Moseby gets hired on to what seems a standard missing person case, as an aging Hollywood actress whose only major roles came thanks to being married to a studio mogul wants Moseby to find and return her stepdaughter. Harry travels to Florida to find her, but he begins to see a connection with the runaway girl, the world of Hollywood stuntmen, and a suspicious mechanic when an unsolved murder comes to light. Written by
Gary Dickerson <email@example.com>
When I posted that Zapruder's film is, to me, one of three defining moments in film noir, I got some incredulous reactions. This helps explain a bit. You can imagine it as chronicling the narrative of a generation.
It's plainly announced in the film. Our guy remembers that he was a young enthusiastic athlete when the first Kennedy was shot, with all life ahead of him we presume. He was on one of his dreary night-long stake-outs, now a weary detective looking into other peoples' lives, when the second Kennedy was.
So there it is. The fact that even people in charge of the world and expected to radically change it for the better can be so casually removed from existence, unsettles deeply. Zapruder's film signalled an end to film noir, in the sense that ordinary crime just didn't cut it anymore. A lone nutjob just didn't cut it anymore. Now we expect narratives that explain larger systemic evil and going all the way up. All of this plainly turned an entire nation of deeply unsettled viewers into private investigators like in a film noir, looking to unlock governing truths behind the callous whims of fate.
Our loss is that we have solid material like this woven together by two not very satisfying references. The solid material is a noir film that questions what it means to be a private eye, what it means to spy away into private lives presuming you can set them straight by watching for mundane details. Did we with JFK or did we go mad spinning the web?
Our main reference is an annotation of the classic noir model, right out the door; a Sam Spade character who is not cool any more, not cocky, not in control, with no sure-footing in the story and has to uncertainly stumble along as the story piles on top of him. The point is this is not going to be strictly about the case, but murky life at the edges of looking to see. Pakula and Altman had already got there with much better, edgier results.
Both these guys had realized, you had to have fiction that resonates with believable life. Hollywood fiction looked harmless and complacent next to photographic evidence of important men dying before our eyes. So it was not enough to have dames and gumshoes, you also had to go to a distance where these things acquired their three dimensions and now looked as springing whole and damaged from a real world where people bleed softer than in the movies.
Klute borrowed from Antonioni, using the detective plot as a premise for connection between lost individuals. It mattered that she was an actress. Altman did his own mischievous thing, freeform jazz canoodling he had invented. He rediscovered Raymond Chandler in the wandering.
The second thing that detracts here is that French New Wave has dated worse than actual noir, and it's what Penn relies on for meta-narrative annotation. So the movie references are explicit, the bits about people acting roles are stressed too obviously, the deconstruction of myths a little without discovery.
That's too bad, because the premise is sound.
Our guy was out on one of his rounds spying into other peoples' lives when one night he happens to spy into a part of his life he didn't know about. We presume he was doing the former to avoid the latter. His own narrative collapses. So he sets out to find the missing person in the hope that he restores himself, but of course nothing is settled when he does.
The ending is suitably bleak, a betrayal that was dragged bitter and mad from Watergate.
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