For me, a world without Martin Scorsese’s After Hours (1985) would be a significantly poorer place. It’s a truly magnificent piece of filmmaking from one of cinema’s most gifted sons…and it was almost never made. Scorsese had actually been gearing up to shoot The Last Temptation of Christ only to have Paramount put the film into turnaround at the eleventh hour. Infuriated at the studio’s caprice, the restless director began looking for projects to channel his creative energies into while his pet project was on the backburner. The first of these was presented to him in the form of a Joe Minion script entitled ‘A Night in SoHo’, a blackly comic ‘New York nightmare’. Though he had a few issues with Minion’s ending, Marty’s interest was sufficiently piqued.
Shot almost entirely on location in SoHo, downtown Manhattan on a tight schedule and a tighter budget, After Hours is nothing short of a masterpiece, and this blogger’s favourite movie by some margin. The central conceit is instantly absorbing, the performances are flawless, the production design spot on, Scorsese’s direction typically kinetic and imaginative but always driving the story, the editing nothing short of immaculate. It’s also one of the great New York movies; granted, it’s not a love letter to the city in the traditional sense but it’s the kind of movie only an NY native could make, calling to attention its less obvious, more dubious charms. You won’t find any picture postcard shots of Manhattan’s famous landmarks here, just a stylised rendering of its darker, seemier underbelly. The city itself almost becomes a character in the movie, a malevolent, omnipotent puppetmaster toying with its victim.
Griffin Dunne takes centre-stage as Paul Hackett, a lonely word processor who clearly yearns to escape his joyless, quotidian existence. Following a chance meeting with the odd-yet-beguiling Marcy (Rosanna Arquette) in a coffee shop, Hackett decides to be spontaneous and meet her later that evening at her apartment. In doing so, he unwittingly sets himself on course for the worst evening of his life as, following an unsavoury turn of events, he finds himself stranded downtown, a stranger in a strange land, his continued presence soon arousing suspicion among the locals that he’s responsible for a spate of burglaries in the neighbourhood. It’s not long before this escalating paranoia threatens to spill over into a violent lynching.
It’s doubtful that any movie character in history has been put through the wringer more than the hapless Hackett. Thanks to one impulsive act he finds himself beset with outrageous misfortune, thrown from one disquieting scenario to another and forced to run a veritable gauntlet of oddball locals, all of whom conspire (consciously or otherwise) to prevent him achieving his prime objective, which is simply to make it back home. To this end, After Hours is an exhausting, frustrating watch, but this is by no means a flaw. In fact, it’s the film’s primary virtue; one becomes fully immersed in Hackett’s travails and the picture is all the more compelling for it. In addition, because Scorsese succeeds so spectacularly in creating a unique environment in which the story can unfold, even the most improbable of events seem perfectly palatable.
On the acting front, Dunne is fantastic, perfectly essaying Hackett’s increasing inredulity and desperation as he attempts to negotiate this waking nightmare (at times he’s almost heartbreaking in his vulnerability), and he’s ably assisted by a superb company of character actors- Catherine O’Hara, Teri Garr, John Heard, Will Patton, Dick Miller and Linda Fiorentino, to name but a few- all of which throw themselves into their respective roles with relish.
I first encountered this film whilst channel-hopping late one night in the mid 90s, and must’ve seen it dozens of times since, on each occasion picking up on some aspect I’ve missed before, be it a delicious visual flourish, curious character tic or neat foreshadowing of a later plot development. While the illustrious likes of Taxi Driver, Goodfellas and Raging Bull are frequently held up as Scorsese’s masterworks, After Hours is just as consistently overlooked. For me, it’s his finest work. Period. Now, anyone interested in buying one of my bagel and cream cheese paperweights?
Some fresh angel has posted the making of featurette from the Region 1 DVD on youtube. Part one :