Saturday November 26, 2011
You know the expression "Just when you think things couldn't possibly get any worse…"? Well, that is Paul Hackett's night in Martin Scorsese's wacky movie After Hours. It's so weird because I had never heard of this film, but I always had its premise in my mind for a story for a book or movie: basically a series of adventures late at night in a city and the film plays out pretty much exactly like I imagined, absurd characters and even more ridiculous scenarios the protagonist finds himself in. This is a really great film that feels so familiar yet is so different from anything I've seen. It is also a testament to Scorsese's brilliance as a director to be able to take such a seemingly meaningless story and practically turn it into some sort of modern epic urban adventure.
I read in a description somewhere that this film is akin to the Odyssey, a modern take of the adventures of Ulysses set in late night New York City. In a way this makes a lot of sense. Big cities can often feel like strange exotic places full of interesting characters. Like in Woody Allen's recent Midnight in Paris, once the night comes just about anything can happen. And it does happen to Paul. One night he meets a woman in a coffee shop and gets her number. Not quite ready to call it a night he calls her up and is invited to her place which leads to one dark comedic twist and turn after another. It's rather pointless to describe each mis-adventure because by themselves they are silly little episodes that don't seem to make much of a plot. As the story goes on it pushes the boundaries of coincidence, fate and perhaps a higher power's twisted sense of humor. Regardless of any underlining subtext that may or may not be there, the film is great for all the reasons films are great, entertaining, engaging and artistically compelling.
It is always interesting to see what great directors can do with certain screenplays. After Hours's screenplay is excellent but Scorsese makes the most out of a script that I would guess didn't demand a lot of special direction. What I mean is that Scorsese finds interesting ways to shoot normal scenes in a seemingly unassuming "regular" movie. There are big camera movements, interesting use of close-ups and camera angles and superb editing and use of music. Maybe another director could have done something different or even better with a scene here or there, but no one but Scorsese could have made this film exactly like this. And this is true for any great film by any great director, they find ways to make movies distinctly their own. After Hours was a very refreshing and surprising find for me. It is a hidden gem among Scorsese's impressive filmography and it deserves to be mentioned among some of his best work.