Perhaps the most underrated and overlooked film of legendary filmmaker Martin Scorsese’s canon is AFTER HOURS. I love this movie. It is unlike anything Scorsese has done before, yet it is undeniably an authentic Scorsese film. The way New York City breathes and pulsates, the use of slow motion to heighten awareness (Scorsese seems to do slow motion better than anybody else and the technique is absolutely overused in today’s films), the way his camera glides and swoons. What an incredibly diverse and wonderful talent.
Griffin Dunne never became a big movie star. He had some success in the 80s and eventually found himself behind the camera as a director. His performance as Paul Hackett in AFTER HOURS shows great promise from a young actor, and his role is no easy feat. Dunne finds just the right comic tone in this darkest of dark comedies. The film follows Paul, a lonely and detached word processor, through an insidious night in New York City as he falls continuously down the rabbit hole, meeting plenty of Mad Hatters along the way. The script by Joseph Minion unfolds each excruciating incident after another, with events and characters intertwining and doubling back on each other. The initial setup of the film involves Paul meeting Marcy (Rosanna Arquette) at a diner. They share the same interests, flirt a bit and Paul gets her phone number. Later he calls her and makes plans to go to her apartment. Most films would be about their romance, or be about Paul’s journey to get to her apartment but AFTER HOURS takes you places you don’t expect.
Most of Paul’s misadventures come at the hands of women. He is first led out of his house by a woman (Arquette) but Paul soon takes a keen interest in her roommate Kiki (Linda Fiorentino). Later, he offends a waitress who tries to help him and angers a leader of a volatile street mob (Catherine O’Hara). Even when Paul shares a nice moment with an older woman (Verna Bloom) he ends up trapped and abandoned. Paul is good intentioned when he describes his motives for the evening (“I just wanted to go out, maybe meet a nice girl”) but he quickly switches his interest back and forth between Marcy and Kiki. When he discovers Marcy may have horrendous burn scars underneath her clothes, Paul acts less than gentlemanly. New York City, with its hellish steam rising from the gutters, will teach Paul a lesson. We relate to Paul and understand his motivations (even when he does the wrong thing) which gives the film an intriguing moral complexity. Whether we agree with Paul’s decisions or not, what is clear is that cosmically he is being punished for something.
AFTER HOURS is a dark comedy in the truest sense and may be the tensest, most uncomfortable “comedy” of all time. It can be difficult to watch at times as Paul goes through the most painful night imaginable. Scorsese brings just the right tone to the film, which allows us to laugh even through Paul’s suffering. Below you can find a 20 minute “Making of” feature split into two parts that is very interesting. Apparently they tried to get Scorsese to do AFTER HOURS but he was busy filming THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST. In the meantime they went to Tim Burton but Scorsese became available again. When Burton realized that Scorsese wanted to do it he immediately stepped down, saying he didn’t want to get in the way of anything Scorsese did. That may be the greatest cinematic accomplishment of Burton’s career.