Wednesday 2 May 2012

Movie Review: After Hours (1985)

A relative oddity in Martin Scorsese's career, After Hours is one man's intriguing journey through a single wild night. The film may lack Scorsese's typical intensity, but the small scale quirky nightmare creates its own aura.

Paul (Griffin Dunne) has a fairly boring life as a word processing support technician at a faceless corporation in New York. After work one evening, he meets Marcy (Rosanna Arquette) at a coffee shop, and she gives him her phone number after they seem to hit it off. Later that night Paul finds the courage to call, and Marcy invites him to her apartment, all the way downtown in the relatively wild SoHo district.

The night starts off badly when during an insane taxi ride (and yes, the crazed driver looks like Robert De Niro), Paul loses all his money. He arrives at Marcy's flat to find the sculptress Kiki (Linda Fiorentino) hard at work, with Marcy arriving late after a mysterious trip to the drugstore. The more Paul discovers about Marcy, the more agitated he gets. Hints of her body being gruesomely burned and what appears to be a nasty spat with a boyfriend convince Paul to split. But he is penniless and far away from home. His night will include a sojourn into a wild nightclub, encounters with hyperactive neighbourhood burglars (Cheech and Chong), a vigilante mob of local residents, at least one dead body, and unexpected encounters with a bartender (John Heard), a waitress (Teri Garr), a prostitute, and another creepy sculptress (Verna Bloom).

Dancing throughout with black comedy, After Hours is what a nightmare feels like when everything is going wrong and waking up is impossible. Paul recognizes early that he does not belong in SoHo, but finding a way out is another matter. Fate conspires to block him at every turn, from his money flying out of the taxi window to the subway fare increasing that midnight above the value of the few coins in his possession. And every character he meets proves to be progressively weirder, demanding his attention and in some cases literally wanting a piece of him.

Interestingly, all of the mortal dangers encountered by Paul during his dreadful night stem from women, and he is initially enticed to SoHo by a woman. The women themselves are all both victims and predators, Paul realizing that SoHo at night is world of unhinged extremes, whereas he belongs in a much more mundane daylight corporate environment dealing with computers and bland professionals.

After Hours does not quite reach madcap levels that could perhaps have been anticipated, but Scorsese was unlikely to have been trying to go overboard. The film derives its creepiness from remaining almost plausible as a trip that provides persistent reminders why some forbidden places need to remain forbidden.

The large cast of actors who never quite made it as superstars is a perfect fit for the story of a suddenly side-tracked life. Dunne has the everyman looks that allow his nightmare to be adopted by anyone, while in support Arquette, Fiorentino, and Garr work hard to project dangerous hidden attributes that are quite spooky but never quite revealed.

After Hours is a stimulating quest to escape from the consequences of a wrong turn, filled with the wild yet kinky beasts that occupy the fringes of dark and unexplored pathways.

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