Plot: What’s it about?
“After Hours” is one of those little gems that a well-known director has made, though for some reason or another, it never really gained “mainstream” status. My first encounter with the movie was, believe it or not, on cable when I was randomly channel surfing one night. I started watching it and really got hooked. How could all of these things happen to this one guy in one night? This came out just before another of my favorite Scorsese movies, The Color of Money and a a few years after one of his bigger flops, The King of Comedy. Can we credit After Hours with the return of Martin Scorsese? He really hasn’t made a bad movie since then and perhaps it’s a quirky little film like this that did put him back on the map (though he already had Mean Streets, Raging Bull and Taxi Driver under his belt). The movie is filled with an ensemble cast, much reminding me of a Quentin Tarantino movie (and I’d bet that he certainly gained some influence by this as well). Proving that you don’t need fancy effects, big budgets or “A” list actors, “After Hours” shows that, above all, a good script and the right actors are usually all it takes.
In this black comedy, we meet Paul Hackett (Griffin Dunne), a word processor who seems to think that his life is just passing him by. He’s not really interested in his job, though it does suit him. It seems that work is just something to pass the time between his nights. At a diner, he’s reading “Tropic of Capricorn” when a good-looking woman strikes up a conversation with him. He gets her number and, later that night, decides to take a chance and call her. She invites him down to her SoHo apartment and his adventures are only about to begin. Meeting her roommate, Kiki (Linda Fiorentino), is an experience. She’s into some interesting sculptures. After that, he bumps into a waitress with a rather interesting hairstyle (Teri Garr), then a seemingly normal bartender (John Heard) and finally Gail (Catherine O’Hara). He constantly runs into Neil and Pepe (Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong, better known as “Cheech & Chong”), thieves who are rather particular as to what they steal. As his dizzying night continues a downward spiral, he meets Mark (Robert Plunkett) and June (Verna Bloom, better known as the Dean’s wife in “Animal House”). And there’s a moment when he looks up at the sky, grabs his head and thinks “What the hell is happening?” And that’s what we’re supposed to think.
After Hours is more like a series of people and events, and it’s actually rather hard to put into words. It’s considered a comedy, much in the way Heathers is considered a comedy. There’s murder, sex, drugs – everything that was present in 1985 (and today). It’s really hard not to laugh when watching Paul fumble about, but it’s more of a mouth half open laugh coupled with a disconcerting nod. On a stranger note, this film is more of homage to the 1939 classic “The Wizard of Oz”. There are some pretty evident parallels like money blowing in the wind, certain characters that are reminiscent of the lion, the tin man and perhaps even Paul as Dorothy. Odd? Yes. But then again this isn’t something to be watched merely on the surface. I really can’t find anything bad to say about the movie, it’s not perfect and it does seem to be very dated watching it now, but some of the better films are dated. It’s got a great cast and that special style or “flare” from Martin Scorsese not only makes it one of his better movies, but certainly one of his most interesting. While dark, it’s funny and entertaining and a rather nice change of pace from some of his more dark works (which, in their own right, are amazing too). Highly recommended.
Video: How does it look?
This might seem an odd choice for Criterion to release in the 4K format, but I’m willing to bet that those that are fans (myself included, obviously) who really don’t mind. As the name might imply, this is a pretty dark movie that takes place at night. Night is a great thing, but it doesn’t always translate too well to films on television. It leaves a lot of room for artifacting, grain, film elements and so forth. But this is Criterion we’re talking about and the result is…stunning. I wouldn’t have thought it possible for the movie to look this good, but it has a veneer that I didn’t think possible. Grain – gone. Debris – not there. The new 4K 1.85:1 HEVC image is simply nearly perfect. For those that have seen (and suffered) though older versions of this film, the wait is over. This is the best the movie has ever looked.
Audio: How does it sound?
The lone track included is an LPCM 1.0 mono track. But that’s OK. This was never much a movie for superb sound, as many of the scenes are dialogue-heavy. Since only one channel is used (presumably of your five), there’s no surround to speak of. Some scenes do sound a bit dry and though dialogue is reasonably clean, I found it to be a bit worse than some movies even older than this. While it’s not horrible, it’s certainly not up to the standard that the video has set. Quite frankly, it serves its purpose and not much more. Don’t prepare to be blown away, because you won’t be, but it’s still a nice, cleaned up track that’s sure to satisfy.
Supplements: What are the extras?
Disc One (4K)
- Audio Commentary – The included commentary track from Martin Scorsese, actor/producer Griffin Dunne, producer Amy Robinson, cinematographer Michael Ballhaus, and editor Thema Schoonmaker is from the early 2000’s, but we do have some new comments by Dunne and Robinson added for this release. So it’s old…with some new material which is always welcome.
Disc Two (Blu-ray)
- Audio Commentry – Same as above.
- Martin Scorsese and Fran Lebowitz – Lebowitz interviews the director as he discusses the period in his life when he made the film, so of the themes within and the overall mood of the project.
- Filming for Your Life: Making After Hours – A “vintage” featurette produced in 2004, this is as the title states – an overall look at the film, its long-lasting appeal as well as casting, some behind the scenes footage and so forth.
- The Look of After Hours – If production featurettes are your thing, this one is for you. Rita Ryack and production designer Jeffrey Townsend give us the lowdown on the visual appearance and style of the film as well as some of the “creative” choices made with lighting and so forth.
- Deleted Scenes – I think the film has stood pretty well on its own, so these seven scenes are worth having, but it’s hard to imagine them in the context of the film.
- Theatrical Trailer
- Illustrated Booklet – Film critic Sheila O’Malley contributes an essay along with the usual bevy of production photos in this insert.
The Bottom Line
After Hours is often overlooked. And that’s too bad, because I consider it to be up there with Scorsese’s greatest films. Raging Bull or GoodFellas might get all the glory, but if this has somehow eluded you through the years – you’re in for a treat. Criterion has added a few new features, given it a nice 4K image and it makes for a perfect package.