After Hours

After Hours ★★★★½

WOW. What a joy to revisit! What I’d once relegated to cool-but-minor Scorsese status is, upon rewatch, one of the director’s most intoxicating, energetic, darkly hilarious and essential works.

The kind of exuberant filmmaking craft we commonly associate with Scorsese nowadays really began here — Raging Bull had flashes of it, but the rapid dolly-ins, whip pans, elaborate tracking shots and general mania really all come together here. It’s exhilarating, with Thelma Schoonmaker’s editing breathlessly urgent and tight as a drum, coupling perfectly with Michael Ballhaus’ relentlessly moving, searching, fleeing camerawork. After Hours feels like Scorsese off the leash, embracing a lower budget and smaller crew and making a film as lean and mean as its production.

Joseph Minion’s script is a finely tuned comic nightmare that’s as seductive as it is claustrophobic, and works so well as every decision Paul makes — whether we might think it’s badly timed or ill-advised — is made out of some form of compassion or guilt or attempt to make amends, and the ever-deepening levels of shit he finds himself in really aren’t his fault: it soon becomes clear the universe is genuinely out to screw this poor guy. 

Griffin Dunne is wonderful as Paul Hackett, our only-slightly-douchey but really quite well-meaning and exasperated lead, and too few films took such pleasing advantage of his particular energy and charm. The supporting cast around him are firing on all cylinders, particularly Catherine O’Hara, Rosanna Arquette, John Heard, Linda Fiorentino and Verna Bloom — all different shades of magnetic, maniacal, mysterious, menacing and melancholy.

From the rush of its opening shot to its perfect final scene, After Hours is a gleefully dark, playfully cruel and hugely enjoyable delight, which will strike a chord with anyone who’s found themselves smack in the middle of a cascading clusterfuck and scrambled to find the other side.