'After Hours': An Overlooked Martin Scorsese Masterpiece
The man, the myth, the legend.
Very few filmmakers have accomplished the incredible level of consistency Scorsese has had in his films since his breakthrough Mean Streets back in 1973, starring Harvey Keitel and Robert De Niro.
His pictures walk the tight-treaded line between commercially successful and artistically significant. He is the man behind cinematic beasts like Taxi Driver, Goodfellas, Casino, The Departed, and many more. But, among those absolute marvels of filmmaking, there is one often overlooked and underrated gem that I do not think gets talked of enough.
So, this week in our Martin Scorsese Retrospective here at Films on The Cob, in conjunction with the limited theatrical release and leading up to the widely-anticipated worldwide Netflix release of The Irishman, I am going to talk about After Hours - Scorsese's underrated masterpiece.
A common theme that is usually found in a lot of Scorsese's work is his indictment of men pushed to their edge. Simple, decent-enough men who discover things about themselves as they vent out into the dark night of the city. They get their limits, their sanity, and their morality tested. And After Hours is yet another example of Scorsese pulling this theme off wonderfully.
Set in the city-lights of Soho, it tells the story of an average, lonely word-processor, Paul Hackett, as he meets a mysterious woman at a coffee shop late in the night, and how his deep, lustful desires lead him to go on a city-wide adventure to remember. Except he'll remember it for all the wrong reasons because when the lights are out, the nightmares begin.
Scorsese isn't someone who has made a lot of straight-up comedies. Yes, a lot of pitch-black comedy is often found in many of his films, but After Hours is one of the few direct comedies he's made. And in his classic fashion, it's a dark comedy in the most uncomfortable and hilarious ways possible. Our protagonist is pushed to his extremes as he's lost in the city streets, simply trying to find his way home. But the night and the people he meets keep getting worse and stranger as time goes on.
Surrealism is present in a lot of aspects of this film. The strangeness of it all, the weird mysticism that is present at its center, all of this helps differentiate it from many of Scorsese's works. So much so that sometimes it doesn't even feel like a Scorsese film. I know the term is overused as hell, but it's safe to say that After Hours is pretty Lynchian in its use of motifs, symbols, metaphorical set-ups, and pay-offs. And the excellent synth score by the amazing Howard Shore sets the unrelenting and unstoppable mood of the film pitch-perfectly.
Walking into a Scorsese feature, everyone has different expectations, but one thing that everyone knows they're bound to experience is the gorgeous camera-work and precise framing. And this film is no exception. A swooping camera, dollying in and out of hallways, offices, streets, bars, like an omnipresent eye of a silent god following our hero as he descends further and further into the madness of the city.
Michael Ballhaus once again proves himself as one of the masters of the camera - the film is gorgeous, vibrant and energetic.
Coming to the performances, Griffin Dunne as Paul Hackett does some hilarious, subdued, and maddening work here. He gets into the shoes of his simpleton character easily and knows when and what buttons to push when it comes to displaying his conflicts.
Rosanna Arquette as Marcy - the femme fatale (who actually might not even be a femme fatale) - is seductive, mysterious, charming, and effective. Arquette's character is more of a plot device than anything, but she is terrific with what she is given.
The rest of the ensemble: Teri Garr, John Heard, Catherine O'Hara, Linda Fiorentino, Verna Bloom and many more, are all fantastic in their short but sweet and memorable appearances.
For any avid Martin Scorsese fan and film fan, After Hours is a must-watch. It finds the film-maker venturing into the uncharted territory of surrealism and total weirdness, bursting with vivid creativity and hilarious comedy. It's a 97 minutes long joy-thrill ride, and I can't believe how overlooked it is in Scorsese's vast filmography. It's a film worth your time.