Some films, mediocre though they may be, are fortunate enough to be ordained as "classics," and go on to live in a world of cinematic immortality where they are remembered forever. Other films, often times much better films, aren't always as fortunate. Sure, they may be far superior to the movies that never seem to leave the collective memory of audiences, but for one reason or another they aren't remembered in the same way. Worse, some aren't even remembered at all. But the faulty memory and illiteracy of the collective movie going population should never be used as a barometer of whether or not a film is good. Case in point: Inside Moves.
Based on Todd Walton's novel, John Savage stars as Roary, a mysterious man that is first introduced as he is killing himself. When a ten-story leap to his death goes wrong, Roary is physically left a broken shell of a man. After many surgeries, he's released from the hospital, and soon finds himself living in a rundown apartment that is walking distance--or in his case, limping distance--from Max's Bar. A hole-in-the-wall if there ever was one, Max's Bar is the regular hangout for a small group of misfits, all with their own disabilities: Blue Lewis (Bill Henderson) is confined to a wheelchair, Wings (Harold Russell) is a double amputee with hooks instead of hands, and Stinky (Bert Remsen) is blind. This odd trio is part of the world that makes Max's Bar unique, but the center of this particular universe is Jerry Maxwell (David Morse), a charming young man with a love for basketball and enough talent to possibly make it in the pros--if it weren't for his bum leg, which is need of an operation he can't afford.
When Roary first arrives at Max's, he is as broken emotionally as he is physically. He is quickly drawn into the eccentric family, where he begins to slowly heal. Roary and Jerry soon become best friends, but when Roary decides to use his personal savings to invest in Max's debt-ridden bar, instead of giving it to Jerry, the friendship begins to fall apart. Complicating matters is Jerry's girlfriend Anne (Amy Wright), a pathetic junkie who turns tricks to make enough to support her habit. Fed up with her behavior, Jerry kicks her out, only to take her back when the loneliness becomes too much to handle. But Anne's return is not appreciated by her pimp, Lucius (Tony Burton), who pays Jerry a memorable visit. Battered and broken, Jerry is content in wasting away, until Roary intervenes, creating the circumstances through which Jerry is able to get his surgery, go through rehab, and eventually start a career in basketball. But the unfortunate cost of all of this is that Jerry leaves behind Roary and everyone else at Max's Bar. Surprisingly, though Jerry was once the force that seemed to hold the bar together, it is Roary who soon becomes the glue that keeps things together, and perhaps even more important, the catalyst for moving forward.
It would sound like a tired cliché to say, "They just don't make movies like this anymore," but the truth is that films like Inside Moves really aren't made that often, and when they are, they struggle to be seen. Even by 1980, when it was originally released, films like this were overshadowed by big Hollywood fare like Superman, the movie director Richard Donner had done prior to Inside Moves. Where Superman was a vast, over the top adventure, Inside Moves is the antithesis--a quiet, deeply reflective story of human frailty and healing. It is a seamless mix of drama and humor, given tremendous emotional weight by the excellent cast.
Following a trio of solid performances in The Deer Hunter, Hair and The Onion Field, John Savage seemed like he was on a roll, giving another great turn with Inside Moves. This seems to be the culmination of an actor who was really finding himself creatively (unfortunately, things didn't seem to work out much after that). Savage seems like an unlikely choice for Roary, who in the book was hideously deformed after being injured in Vietnam, but he sells the roll, giving the character a physical frailty that is balanced by an emotional uncertainty. Physically, Savage struggles to walk and move around, but he also looks like at any moment he is going to shatter emotionally, until, over the course of time, he becomes the solid foundation everyone else depends on. This is the transformation that carries the story, giving it its depth and emotional complexity.
Savage is surrounded by a cast of incredible actors, most notably David Morse, who made his film debut with Inside Moves. Morse is great as the charming Jerry, whose friendly smile hides a selfishness that catches everyone off guard. But for all the accolades earned by Savage, Morse or the Oscar-nominated Diana Scarwid as Roary's eventual love interest, it is the supporting cast of Henderson, Russell and Remsen who steal the show. You could literally watch a movie about these three guys, who breathe a unique life into Inside Moves, giving it a much greater sense of humanity. Russell's won two Oscars for his work in The Best Years of Our Lives. Character actor Henderson is best remembered for his work in movies like , but was robbed of an Oscar nomination in Smiling Fish, Goat on Fire.
Inside Moves is not one of the greatest movies ever made, but it is most certainly a great film. The script by Valerie Curtin and Barry Levinson, the direction by Donner, and the solid performances by the entire ensemble cast make Inside Moves a special kind of treat. It is a great film that has, for the most part, been largely forgotten. But that makes its "discovery" on DVD that much more of a treat.
Inside Moves is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. The picture quality is good, but not great. There is a slight washed out look, with enough signs of wear that I think the DVD may have been mastered either from a video master or a less than pristine print. The picture quality looks more like good VHS than good DVD, but is only problematic for people who are nitpicky about such things.
Inside Moves is presented in English in 2.0 Dolby, with optional subtitles in English and Spanish. The sound mix is good, with the right blalnce between dialog and music, and the audio levels are consistent throughout.
Director Richard Donner is joined by Brian Helgeland for an audio commentary. Helgeland, best known as the screenwriter of films like Mystic River, L.A. Confidential and A Knight's Tale (which he also directed), has nothing to do with Inside Moves, other than being a fan of the film. The commentary with Donner and Helgeland is good, but nothing that could be considered essential listening. "From the Inside Out" (16 min.) is a brief featurette that includes interviews with Donner and novelist Todd Walton, both of whom discuss how Inside Moves went from being a book to a film. There is also a copy of the shooting script, which can be downloaded on to computer as a PDF.
Fans of well crafted films will not want to miss Inside Movies. Starting with the script, moving to the direction, and including the performances, this is a very well realized movie, more than worthy of repeated viewings.
David Walker is the creator of BadAzz MoFo, a nationally published film critic, and the Writer/Director of Black Santa's Revenge with Ken Foree now on DVD [Buy it now]