One of the better Hollywood movies on the subject of disability, Richard Donner’s Inside Moves doesn’t limit its scope to physical impairment; mental illness is taken seriously too, so don’t be surprised that you’ve not heard much about it. Coming off the back of Superman, Donner was a sought-after director, and with a script by Barry Levinson and Valerie Curtin adapted from Todd Walton’s novel, Inside Moves feels like an attempt to break fresh ground in terms of challenging pubic perceptions of health issues.
Taking place against a rather dingy-looking Los Angeles, Inside Moves it as much about a place as a person; Max’s bar, a run-down bar where various types congregate. David Morse is Jerry, an athlete who requires an operation if he’s ever going to pursue his basketball dream. His occasional girlfriend Louise (Diana Scarwid) turns tricks to make some money, and is often in need for Jerry to rescue her. Wings (Harold Russell) has hooks for hands, but cheer-leads a group of card-sharps who provide an abrasive commentary on what’s going on. And Roary (John Savage) is recovering from a suicide attempt, having thrown himself out of a building. Roary is adopted by the denizens of the bar, and their friendship inspires Jerry to reach new heights which test their bonds.
Russell hadn’t made a film since his Oscar-winning turn in 1946’s The Best Years of Our Lives, and casting the presidential advisor on issues to do with the ‘handicapped’ was a coup, yet it’s Scarwid’s Oscar-nominated turn which pulls most effectively at the heart-strings. Inside Moves doesn’t do enough to consider Louise’s plight, but the actress imbues the tired street-walker clichés with something genuine and heart-felt. Otherwise, Inside Moves does a good job in capturing a group of men who fear they’re put out to grass, and are trying to find their place in a world that ostracizes them. It’s interesting that in 1980, the place for this kind of interaction to happen was a commercial bar; there’s no self-help, drop-in centres or social work interventions here, just macho-banter and gruff philosophy.
Inside Moves is a melancholy, tough little drama that moves quickly beyond be-all-you-can-be platitudes and expands to consider the nature of alienation. Savage and Morse are both terrific here, giving the kind of powerhouse performances that the material needs; we feel that we’re watching good people battle real life crises, and while that’s not a promise that lured many to the theatres, it’s worth seeking out as a period piece that says a lot about US health-care circa 1980.