REVIEW: After Hours (1985)

Theatrical Release Poster – Warner Bros. Pictures

The following is a review of Martin Scorsese’s 1985 classic After Hours — Written by Joseph Minion.

Although his 1980 feature film Raging Bull earned Martin Scorsese rave reviews and industry awards recognition, its success did not ensure that Martin Scorsese’s 1980s would be a nice and smooth ride with nothing but successes. Even though he had already made films that we still talk about today, Scorsese was not the box office draw that modern cineastes might have imagined. His follow-up to Raging Bull, his 1982 near-masterpiece The King of Comedy struggled at the box office. Then Paramount Pictures got cold feet due to a sizable budget as well as religious protests, and, as a result, they, eventually, canceled the production of Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ, which was finally made and released with the help of Universal Studios in 1988. So one might understand if, in the mid-to-early 1980s, Martin Scorsese needed to make something wildly different. It was at this point when, before he finally got to make his aforementioned controversial religious passion project, Martin Scorsese made his frantic black comedy After Hours.

Scorsese’s After Hours tells the story of one crazy night for Paul Hackett (played by Griffin Dunne), a bored yuppie word processer who bites off more than he can chew in the inner-city madness of New York City. At the end of his workday, he makes his way to a local cafe to reread a book that he cherishes. It is in this cafe that he meets Marcy, a woman that he clearly finds attractive. Marcy gives him the phone number of the woman that she is currently living with and heads off into the New York City nightlife. Just before midnight, while he is bored in his drab apartment, Paul dials the number he was given and swiftly gets an invitation to head over to their loft. He will soon regret his decision to enter into the hellish nightlife of New York City, which begins to swallow him whole the very moment he gets into a yellow taxi cab destined for Marcy’s whereabouts.

I think that this is a difficult film to categorize when you recommend it. To give a brief premise like I have just done is easy enough on its own, but since I would also describe it as both frantic and nightmarish, then to classify it as a comedy almost feels wrong. On my first viewing, it felt more frighteningly mad than humorous. But it is a comedy. After Hours is a Kafkaesque dark comedy whose humor is way more accessible on your second viewing. Therefore I must echo the sentiments of Roger Ebert who called this film “the tensest comedy I can remember.” It is an almost frightening and even quite claustrophobic descent into chaos with some strong dark comedy. Ultimately, After Hours is a film about a yuppie who gets bored with white walls, documents, and computers. So when he acts on his desires to get some excitement in his life, he gets an up, close, and personal relationship with the chaos of the nightlife. He is basically punished by the universe for chasing excitement and driven mad by the increasingly preposterous predicaments that he finds himself in. He quickly finds out that there is more to life than his dreary nine-to-five job, but he is unprepared for the nightmare that he finds himself in.

This Scorsese film is filled to the brim with nervous energy and absurdism. It is a tightly wound film with both smooth and frantic camera movements as well as amusing editing choices, including one memorable scene in which the taxi ride he takes from his apartment to the loft that Marcy lives in temporarily is sped-up to frantic but comical effect. I would also like to highlight the shot in which a set of keys is thrown out of a window. It is an invasive, intense, and effective shot wherein we see the keys fall downwards towards the camera. Scorsese’s film balances cringe comedy with nightmarish absurdism exceptionally well thanks in large part to editor Thelma Schoonmaker and cinematographer Michael Ballhaus. Scorsese manages to create a believably absurd and hellish existence in Manhattan. In a sense, it should be a Scorsese classic, as it is an extraordinary film about the life of a New Yorker. It fits right in with lauded films like Mean Streets and Taxi Driver, and it should receive similar admiration even though it stars actors that are not normally associated with the legendary film director. After Hours stars Griffin Dunne, whose strong anxiety-ridden performance made me question why he didn’t appear in later Scorsese films, as the aforementioned yuppie protagonist and multiple female actors — Rosanna Arquette, Verna Bloom, Linda Fiorentino, Teri Garr, and (the perfectly cast) Catherine O’Hara — who all make very positive impressions in the film.

Martin Scorsese’s After Hours is an overlooked and clearly influential genre-bending gem from the legendary director’s exceptional filmography that feels like a mixture of a hellish episode of The Twilight Zone and cringe comedy. I think this Kafkaesque dark comedy and nightmarish descent into New York’s Lower Manhattan will stick with me for a very long time.

9 out of 10

– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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