After Hours

After Hours ★★★★½

"I broke the whole thing off."

Hey, my man won Best Director long before 2007! Both Cannes and Film Independent did so for this very film. Who needs the Oscars?

Last night's rewatch of The Departed has prompted me to finally check out a Martin Scorsese picture I had not seen, what's now apparently the 25th of his I've watched, the black comedy of After Hours. Scorsese's foray into the "yuppie nightmare cycle" subgenre of wild screwball and dark noir (well, that's redundant, ain't it) proves to be another sensational film and unpredictable story for one of the greatest directors of our times.

Paul Hackett (Griffin Dunne) is getting through another monotonous and exhausting work day as a computer programmer and word processor in New York City. Finally, it's over, and he trudges back to his apartment and out to dinner, reading Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer. There at the cafe he meets Marcy Franklin (Rosanna Arquette) who shares his love of intellectual literature, and mentions a sculptor with whom she lives in a gigantic studio apartment named Kiki (Linda Fiorentino) who Paul finds interesting for her specific craft: "plaster-of-Paris paperweights resembling cream cheese bagels." When he calls the artist, quickly Marcy wishes to speak instead and invites him over. Already 11:32pm, Paul hesitates… then says yes, hails a cab, loses his $20 bill out the window, and is in for the night of his life.

Though that's only less than 15 minutes of the film, with a runtime just over an hour-and-a-half, After Hours is a wild ride with a plot you don't want spoiled. Joseph Minion and Scorsese worked on the screenplay, based on a story by Joe Frank, and immediately you can see what drove the director to this tale. A Kafkaesque dive into the psyche of a directionless man, disappointed by his endeavors and facing one trial after another in a battle for his next twist of fate, Paul's story perhaps mirrors Scorsese's as he moved to independent film during the protracted fight over financing The Last Temptation of Christ. Martin felt like Joseph K, waiting for his trial to end. Brian Eggert discussed this cascading metaphor of the "fever dream...of horrifying coincidences." He continues:

The entire evening may be an unsolved mystery populated by curious late-nighters, but Paul too perpetuates the mystery in his own imagination….Every encounter throughout Paul’s evening takes a turn like this, where his simple expectations for an individual go terribly wrong, their behavior at times baffling, the world turned upside-down. An all-consuming sense of helplessness prevails along with the feeling that the city and its late-night inhabitants are out to get him.

Yet for the first act of After Hours, aside from some brief comedy, you'd almost think you're in a Wong Kar-wai film, with a young man and woman talking about relationships and hanging out in dimly-lit diners on a rainy night. Nope! This is New York baby, the city that never sleeps, and Paul is going to find out all the reasons why SoHo is wide awake. Artsy weirdos all over the place and he's the only square, but he can't seem to get out of this twisted nightmare.

Yes, I'm obliged to exclaim how much Griffin Dunne looks like Noah Baumbach. Quite uncanny.

Is it unnecessary to mention the brilliant editing of every Scorsese film? Probably, because of course it's the legendary Thelma Schoonmaker cutting the scenes with precision in the taut comedy/thriller. Paced like the cleverest Hitchcock mystery, yet staged in the dark hallucinatory dives of 1980s SoHo, After Hours unfolds with brief fixations on images and objects just like the Master of Suspense did. Catch them if you can. Also, catch Scorsese's cameo too, brief like Hitchcock would do as well.

Pretty freaking fantastic. Only for a filmmaker like Martin Scorsese would a movie like this be underrated or nearly ignored by the larger public. Don't make the same mistake I did and assume it's some lesser work. This was amazing. I didn't think I would find a new favorite tonight, but here we are.

Added to My Subjective List of the Best Narrative Films.
Added to Martin Scorsese ranked.

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