Night Moves : Complete explanation

Complete explanation

After Cemetery Man, I'm going to give my take on this film, one of the many possible ones. I'm gonna miss the point of the movie, as Ebert said. Here we go:

Nick is a collector of pre-Columbian artifacts, illegal to obtain. He buys these items from stunt director Joey Ziegler who has a neat operation going on using stuntmen to get them from Yucatan. Marv Ellman flies them into the US and drops them off in Florida to be picked up by Tom Iverson and Paula.

All is fine until Tom's stepdaughter (Dilly) leaves her mother, Arleen, to go live with him. This upsets Nick as a horny teenager might ruin the deal they have going on. Therefore, he makes Arleen hire Harry Moseby to fetch her back. Arleen needs to have Dilly back to get her monthly alimony.

Harry finds Dilly in Florida in no time. Things go wrong when Marv has an accident and dies while transporting an artifact. During a dive, Dilly finds the plane and recognizes Marv. Tom and Paula tell Harry they'll call the coast guard, but don't for obvious reasons. Harry takes Dilly back to LA.

Dilly tells her friends Quentin and Joey that the corpse she saw during the dive was Marv's. She's a dangerous witness to Joey, who gets her killed during a stunt.

Quentin smells something fishy and goes to Florida to investigate. Tom kills him.

Harry goes to Florida to investigate too, beats Tom senseless and discovers half this plot from Paula. He makes Paula take him out on a boat ride to the submerged plane. While Paula is diving to retrieve the artifact, Joey shows up flying a plane and kills Paula, then tries to kill the boat owner, Tom. It got too dangerous for Joey - he wants to get rid of all his team. He doesn't know it's Harry on the boat instead of Tom. As his plane is sinking he kind of apologizes to Harry. Then again, since Joey killed Dilly, I don't think he'd have any problems offing Harry too.

Harry is left alone, on a boat that's going round in circles and is angry with himself for not seeing this plot sooner. As Harry had said about that chess player, "He didn't see it. He played something else and he lost. He must have regretted it every day of his life. I know I would have." If he is rescued, he'll regret this case for the rest of his life.

© Nov 9 2007 by Keith Chircop

Re: Complete explanation

Fair play Keith, v concise summing up of things.

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good call!

"Rue the day?" Who talks like that?

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But could Harry be mortally wounded there at the end?

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Excellent work! That's a check mate in one move.

Re: Complete explanation

I have just watched this film again after several years, and in general I agree with the OP's analyses and explanations. But at the same time, I have to say that a complete explanation of the movie would simply be impossible. It might be noted that in the film, the viewer sees everything from Harry's point of view. There is not one single scene in which Harry was not present. At all times we see only what Harry saw - no more or less. We are supposed to share Harry's confusion and puzzlement. At the end of the film, a great part of the truth fell on top of Harry, but he still could not have known or explained everything, and neither could we. Most of the OP's explanations are reasonable, but other interpretations are clearly possible. Of course, some explanations are more plausible than the others, but those that do not seem particularly plausible are not necessarily wrong.

One important disagreement here is that I don't think Nick was the mastermind of the smuggling operations. I think he was a collector of Mexican artifacts and might even have bought them from Ziegler, but I don't think he knew about Iverson's role in Florida. Otherwise it would have been quite stupid of him to ask a private detective (Harry) to investigate the matter. It was Delly's mother who wanted to search for her runaway daughter and asked Nick for help. If Nick was involved in smuggling and just wanted Delly to go back to her mother, there were probably a hundred easier ways to do that. Later, we learned that Iverson didn't want Delly to stay with him either.

There are many other things that remained mysteries and I just give a few examples. I agree that it was likely that Delly was murdered by Ziegler, but could we really be so certain? Is there any chance at all that it was a real accident? (Murdering Delly seemed to me a little bit extreme. Are we to assume that she had no idea whatsoever about their illegal activities after staying with them for so long?) How did Marv Ellman die? Was it a flying accident or did Quentin do something to his plane? Also, was Quentin a member of the smuggling team? If he was not, then how did he locate Iverson so easily and arrived at his place even before Harry - just to be murdered? Finally who was Ziegler trying to shoot at the end, and was he trying to tell Harry something? I don't think he was "apologizing" to Harry. In fact, after killing Delly, the logical thing to do would have been to murder Harry rather than getting rid of all his other partners. Even if Harry survived (according to the filmmakers he did), he would probably never know the answers to all these, and neither could we.

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@Henry -

One other important clue: we don't know FOR CERTAIN who was in that first plane underwater. We all assume it was Marv Ellman, but since his face was eaten off (a very deliberate decision on Arthur Penn's part) we can't know.

Perhaps the only was we could have known would have been when Delly leaves that message on Harry's answering machine - he turns it off the second before she's about to say WHOM SHE THINKS IS IN THE PLANE. It could have been Marv, sure, but it also could have just been what Delly knew or was told.

The round-and-around point continues - we can never know.

"There is no inner peace. There is only nervousness and death." - Fran Lebowitz

Re: Complete explanation

In a real life situation, your doubts are reasonable. But in the context of the film, obviously for some reason Delly was able to recognize Marv's body (perhaps by his flying suit or clothes?). If you watch that part again, when Delly discovered the downed plane, she wasn't really alarmed and simply gestured to Moseby and Paula for them to notice. She swam closer to investigate and then started to panic, and when she was pulled up she had to be revived by Moseby and Paula. So there was no doubt in her mind that she saw Marv’s body. Whether she had a firm foundation for that belief made little or no difference to the plot.

Of course, all doubts disappear later when we see Paula bringing up the Mexican art from the plane.

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Harry is left alone, on a boat that's going round in circles and is angry with himself for not seeing this plot sooner.

The problem is that Harry had no reason to suspect what was actually going on and the film presents the plot in such a bizarre, disjointed manner that the audience has no reason to think he missed any clues because of some personal flaw.

His supposed flaw is spelled out but never demonstrated but his wife is SHOWN to be a horrible, deceptive person. It makes no sense at all.

I've watched it twice in the past week and it still strikes me as a failed attempt to shoehorn 3 or 4 styles into one (surprisingly dated) film and every distinct aspect eats away at the effectiveness of the other.

Night Moves was an interesting experiment but it is still a mess with some terrible dialogue and pointlessly confusing editing.

The unexplained parts don't benefit the film.

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>>> terrible dialogue

Really disagree. I think its dialog is nothing short of superb.

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I concur. The dialogue is what makes the film great, not the plot or anything else.

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Thanks, Keith. I'll take any explanation I can get!

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Good job.

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Oh what the hell. The OP's explanation works. I liked it.

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I watched it again last night for the first time in seven years, and that explanation comes very close to what I think is going on.

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Thanks, Keith. I agree with much of that.
Like another poster, I doubt Nick (Kenneth Mars) was the head of the operation but was a customer of the outfit. When he proudly shows his collection to Harry, it serves to advance the plot and is a hint at the final revelation. (But if he were aware of the criminal activity he was sending Harry into, he wouldn't brazenly display his art to Harry.) There is *some* connection to Nick's art collection, his personal association with Joey Ziegler (Ed Binns), AND having Arlene Iverson as a client. But I think Nick is in the dark -- the real ring-leader, Ziegler, simply introduced Arlene to Nick. In fact Ziegler might've been irked that Harry then got the case. Btw, Harry first meets Ziegler during on-location stunt work (with Marvin's plane buzzing them), but surely his introduction had come from Nick. Ziegler seems to immediately warm to him, but it's not because he's just a nice guy -- it's in his interest. For instance, when the search for Delly seemed to dead-end, did Joey or Marvin suggest Harry's next step should be Tom Iverson? (I don't think such a comment is in the movie.)

But sure, we can read any level of background to what the movie shows on the surface. It can destroy the immediacy to overthink it, but to some extent it's fun to connect the dots.
Gotta go. More later.


Re: Complete explanation

Well done.

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Overall, a very good explanation.

However, there are some real holes in the movie's plot. In a large ocean, how is it that Paula just happens to take Delly to swim over the site of the plane crash? That's highly unlikely. It wasn't any where near the shore or where it could be easily got to, since Paula had to leave a small buoy to mark the site.