The plot is a standard one. Our private detective, Harry Ross, makes a simple delivery for a friend and discovers a murder. Then he discovers several more. The police suspect him, but let him go. He wades through the confusion, taking the occasional beating. Finally, he solves the mystery. Then re-solves it. We've seen the plot before. But this movie isn't great because of the plot. It's the characters.
Excepting a very young Reese Witherspoon, the main characters are all...old. Paul Newman, Gene Hackman, and James Garner are seasoned actors who know their craft and themselves through decades of experience. They use this knowledge to bring a world-weary, knowing depth to their characters. Not-so-old Susan Sarandon and Stockard Channing also invest their characters with this depth of years, their beauty undiminished by it. These people have lived complex lives and learned something from them. They know who they are.
They know each other, too. You can hear it in how they talk, the abbreviated references to shared events and sadly remembered friends. You can hear it in the silences. There are silences of understanding, when nothing needs saying. And there are silences of considered restraint, when something is thoughtfully left unsaid. ("You haven't apologized to me," complains Gene Hackman. "You haven't been listening," Paul Newman chides in return.)
My favorite exchanges between Paul Newman and James Garner occur while they seem to be resting from previous scenes' exertions. Their words are sometimes blunt, sometimes carefully incomplete, always casual, yet rich with reference and understated implication. These men understand each other with fewer words than younger men use. They haven't the energy or the need to say more.
See this movie with someone you think you know well. It may give you something to talk about. Or carefully not talk about.