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After Hours
1985 - R - 97 Mins.
Director: Martin Scorsese
Producer: Griffin Dunne and Amy Robinson
Written By: Joseph Minion
Starring: Griffin Dunne, Rosanna Arquette, Linda Fiorentino, John Heard, Catherine O'Hara
Review by: John Ulmer
Official Site: N/A
This is a brooding, dark, bitter film, with a pessimistic outlook on life and a downright depressing core message. It is a “comedy” with no laughs, and few chuckles. It is also a great cult film by director Martin Scorsese that came and went in 1985 with little attention.

It’s surprising to see that Scorsese took on another comedy so shortly after his major flop, "The King of Comedy" (1983), starring Robert De Niro. Scorsese publicly acknowledged that he wished he had never made 'The King of Comedy' and his star disowned it.

Thank goodness this did not dissuade Scorsese from making another comedy. He was back two years later with 'After Hours,' which is an intense, hellish, nightmarish odyssey through New York City’s Soho late at night, and into the morning. The film’s protagonist, Paul (Griffin Dunne), is an unlikable character who generally gains sympathy with us only because of his grueling misfortunes. Fate, it seems, has a grudge against poor Paul; as the night progresses, it only becomes worse and worse, until he is running away from a bloodthirsty mob and happens to inadvertently witness a random murder. “I’ll probably get blamed for that,” he says to himself, which is exactly what we’re thinking.

This really is the sort of film that makes you almost want to stop watching, it is so painful. Nothing at all goes right for Paul. When he seeks comfort in a friend, he is relieved, finally able to sit back and take a breath of air -- only to look outside and see his “friend” alerting the bloodthirsty mob.

The plot – what little there is – begins in a typical daytime office setting. Paul meets a girl after a hard day at work (Rosanna Arquette) and they arrange to meet later that evening. On the way there he loses all his cash through the open window of a speeding taxicab and is left with few dollars. On top of this, Paul soon realizes that Arquette is not his type and leaves to go home – only to find that local subway fare has been raised and he doesn’t have enough cash to make it back to his apartment. Thus begins his nightmare.

Scorsese’s genius move here is that as Paul progresses into the night, the film slowly loses its balance and topples over into a distinct category of weirdness. The beginning is fairly standard and realistic. It is typical Scorsese with exterior shots of New York City, character-driven dialogue and so on and so forth. About 1/3 of the way through it becomes a bizarre Terry Gilliam-esque hellride and Scorsese lets loose on everything. It’s brilliant filmmaking and a devastating satire of New York’s late-night underbelly. The original ending (storyboarded but never filmed) involved Paul being reborn after crawling through a random woman’s legs – that’s how bizarre, and creative, this film actually is.

Dunne is suitable in the role of Paul – a fairly unknown character actor; he doesn’t have the charisma or talent to be a typical leading man. Which, I think, is part of the reason he seems so comfortable in the role of Paul, who is certainly one of cinema’s most unusual heroes. Another film might setup Paul as a meek, hard-working, likable guy who gets stuck in bad situations – when in fact Paul is a confident jerk who probably deserves what is coming to him. Before picking up Arquette he flirts with her roommate (Linda Fiorentino) and gives her a back massage. He puts the moves on Arquette, then ditches her when she resists. He’s not shy and he’s not an all-around good guy – he’s a flawed character that only helps the entire experience feel more realistic.

Scorsese is at the top of his game here. Many techniques would be used five years later in 'GoodFellas.' Note the ringing phone and the abrupt lunge forward; the keys being tossed out of the window in first-person perspective; the rotating camera as it pans around Paul’s head in a diner; and so on and so forth. Although it is not his best work nor his most distinct, 'After Hours' is ample proof that Scorsese has a firm handle on black comedy and is able to stretch beyond his (arguably) typified style of gangsters and low-lifes planning how to “whack” people. Scorsese bashers should see this, and his fans should too – insightful for everyone.
Movie Guru Rating
An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant.
  4.5 out of 5 stars

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