After Hours

After Hours ★★★★★

This film that brought faith in film making back Martin Scorsese is a wild-eyed comedy soaked in paranioa and screwball madness, not to mention one hell of a ride.

Story Time!
Right after finishing The King of Comedy, his followup to the singular Raging Bull, Scorsese embarked on making his dream movie: the story of Christ. Intending to adapt Nikos Kazantzakis' novel "The Last Temptation of Christ" (which is itself an incredible read, by the way), this monument of a director poured his very soul into making the picture happen, but fate had a different schedule, and after months of effort and trying to pull things together, The Last Temptation of Christ fell apart during pre-production and Scorsese's career found itself in a sticky predicament. Frustrated by a disappointment that wasn't just business, but actually very personal, our friend Marty set his bitter eyes on making something small, low-budget and very doable. It just so happened that that project turned out to be the grad project of a Columbia U film student, a feature screenplay titled A Night in Soho. Scorsese made his own personal tweaks to the script, and what came of it all was a movie so dark, so cruel to its protagonist, so wild and full of energy that it perfectly embodies to this day the lesson Marty learned about how to deal with life when the shit hits the fan: laugh about it.

The Movie
So, about the movie. Griffin Dunne makes this movie happen. He's got a face that isn't the sort of classically good looking one would expect from a lead actor, but this lends a certain everyman quality to the way he deals with every new obstacle in his efforts to just get home and sleep. His anger vents itself in a variation of micro-expressions and sudden outbursts, and when halfway through the night he sees something heinous happen through a couple's apartment window, we believe him when he simply mutters I'll probably get blamed for that too.

Right next to Dunne in Scorsese's playbook here is Thelma Schoonmaker. That woman has got to be one of the finest film editors in the world today, and her expertise is on rampant show in After Hours. Here is a film which demands very deliberate pacing, otherwise all the crazy experiences poor Paul Hackett endures on his night in Soho would come across as a jumbled mess. She slows down the film at just the right moments, like before Paul realizes what happened to his date who started off the whole night, only to continually raise the tension with an increasing staccato as the night wears on.

The story recalls Orson Welles' adaptation of Kafka's The Trial, what with its escalating paranoia and somewhat surreal happenings (the mood of which is only magnified by Scorsese's wonderfully intrusive camerawork). And yet, what I was really reminded of was Truffaut's Shoot the Piano Player. That beautifully sad comic followup to The 400 Blows makes the most of varying moods and creative camerawork just as this film, but most of all it's about a nice guy who's just given too much shit. And quite frankly, any film that reminds me of Truffaut can only continue to rack up bonus points.

There's a surprising lot to talk about when it comes to After Hours, considering it's a film that doesn't really have a lot to say. But what it does well is create tension and then bottle it, shake the bottle up and down, and let it explode like the fury of a man scorned by life and God. This everyman has just gone through hell in a night, but tomorrow is another day, and maybe there's no loss of irony when Scorsese says it through a film than when it's proclaimed by Scarlett O'Hara herself. So laugh about it.

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