With the recent release of “Shutter Island” and my utter disappoint in the film, I have raged watched a couple of Scorsese films, “Gangs of New York” and “After Hours”. Some are impressed by Scorsese breaking from his “genre” and making a thriller/horror film! Wow! Watch “Cape Fear” instead. Scorsese doesn’t have a genre, he’s not held down by them but his staples are crime films. Scorsese has made a thriller/horror with “Shutter Island” and “Cape Fear”, a film that empowered women in the 1970’s with “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore”, three epics: “Kundun”, “Gangs of New York” and “The Last Temptation of Christ”, a period piece romance “Age of Innocence”, a semi sports film “Raging Bull”, three musical documentaries “The Last Waltz”, “Shine a Light” and “No Direction Home” and two dark, dark, dark comedies, “The King of Comedy” and “After Hours” a musical “New York, New York” and a sequel to a classic that could stand as a standalone movie “The Color of Money” and Michael Jackson’s music video “Bad”. My point with all this is Scorsese isn’t a genre director.
“After Hours” came out when Scorsese was on a role with “Taxi Driver”, “Raging Bull” and “King of Comedy”. “After Hours” stars Griffin Dunne (who’s most notable as Michael Keaton’s brother in “Johnny Dangerously”) as Paul Hackett who is computer processer who lives a mundane life. He’s alone, and is lonely. After leaving his job and sitting at home watching TV Paul goes to a local coffee shop where he sits and reads Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller. The only other patron in the diner is Rosanna Arquette and she proceeds to tell Paul that she loves the book he’s reading. She moves to Paul’s table and tells him how she is going to her friend’s house who is an artists that makes plaster bagels as paper weights. Paul wants one and she gives him the number where she’s staying. Paul goes home, and doesn’t even last five minutes before he calls the number asking to buy a paper weight. What embarks this night in New York City is dark, disturbing, and wickedly humorous. The randomness of the events that happen are so hard to describe, this defiantly in not a film for the casual movie watcher.
The cast that exists in “After Hours” consists of non Scorsese players (aside from Arquette who starred in “Life Lessons”, Scorsese’s segment in “New York Stories”, Verna Bloom and character actors Victor Argo and Murray Moston) Griffin Dunne, John Heard, Teri Garr, Cathrine O’Hara, Cheech and Chong, Will Patton and Linda Fiorentino. With a cast like that, you know this is going to be one odd movie. What works in “After Hours” is the heightened sense of paranoia and suspense Scorsese throws at us, as we watch poor Paul Hackett go through these series of unfortunate events that are all connected and related. The poor guy is having the worst night he’s ever endured and he just wants to get home. We can’t help but feel uncomfortable by Paul’s actions, what a dork he is. Its fun to watch him as he transforms from square to paranoid vigilante as an angry mob is chasing him, ends up at an S&M Club, picks up a gay man and is what he believes, the cause of a suicide. This is one fun movie!
What makes this similar to “Shutter Island” is this isn’t a personal project for Scorsese, it’s not a project that he sought out and wanted to make. This was a film that he was offered and turned it down because he was about to start work on “The Last Temptation of Christ” so the studio hired Tim Burton to direct it. Once production was severely delayed on “Temptation” he went back to the studio to tell them he was available and Tim Burton respectfully bowed out of the project because he “didn’t want to stand in the way of Scorsese”. Even though this isn’t a personal project for Scorsese, it feels personal. His use of camera angles and Thelma Schoonmaker’s brilliant editing makes this a Scorsese film. It’s obvious yet again Scorsese’s love for New York City. His camera shots and descriptions of places are remarkable. It feels like a Scorsese film, it sounds like a Scorsese film. Even though the cast is very odd and very random, you still know you’re watching a Scorsese film. The final shot of the film, that roles through the end credits is one continuous shot, much like the Copacabana scene in “Goodfellas” – so you know, by the end of “After Hours” you watched yet another remarkable Scorsese film.
The film itself stands alone as one of Scorsese’s true deep cuts, and it’s a film most people haven’t seen. It’s hard to find, but it did get a DVD release years ago, and might still be in print. The film is structured a lot like the HBO series “Curb Your Enthusiasm”, except it is much darker and the entire film takes place in about 12 hours of Paul Hackett’s life. This is a brilliant film, by another brilliant filmmaker. Skip “Shutter Island” and visit the real Martin Scorsese and watch “After Hours” or “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore”.