[Screenwriter] Sharp simultaneously honors and subverts the conventions of the private-eye flick, teasing out tantalizing story strands but restricting the audience’s perspective to that of the film’s generally clueless protagonist. He also gives Hackman one of the greatest roles of the actor’s storied career: a belligerent, proud, dangerously resourceful hunk of misdirected tenacity.
The plot is secondary to its temperament, desperate and paranoid in its dogmatic, post-Watergate pursuit of the Truth, whatever that may be. Any confusedness, however, is transmogrified by Penn’s direction, as is his style—his is an expression that conquers, even when the triumphs are more subtle than absolute.
Although close contemporaries The Long Goodbye (1973) and Chinatown (1974) are lauded more regularly today as exemplary New Hollywood re-imaginings of film noir, Night Moves sits comfortably in such exalted company. . . . The happy confluence of [Penn and screenwriter Alan Sharp's] artistic interests and abilities on Night Moves marked a joint creative highlight before their respective careers took more uncertain turns.