“I Just Want to Get Home”: ‘After Hours’ Review

Posted in Screening Room by - November 08, 2017
“I Just Want to Get Home”: ‘After Hours’ Review

Most modern filmgoers only know a tiny slice of Martin Scorsese’s backlog and assume that his filmography is made up of either collaborations with Robert DeNiro or Leonardo DiCaprio. While recently that’s been the case especially with Leonardo DiCaprio, a series of films I’m not a massive fan of except The Departed, some of Scorsese’s lesser-known works tend to be exciting forays into topics and narrative styles not usually associated with the auteur. Such is the case with After Hours, a black comedy with noir elements along with a sympathetic performance from its lead Griffin Dunne. It’s a film that is overlooked in his body of work yet is a much narrower in scope and narrative than many of his more recent works.

Griffin Dunne plays Paul Hackett, a computer word processor, who meets a beautiful woman in a cafe in New York and ends up in a series of misadventures in SoHo after going to visit her artist friend for a “bagels and cream cheese” paperweight. His misfortunes range from being accused of being a cat burglar, becoming encased in plaster sculpture, and attempting to get into a trendy nightclub all the while trying to make his way back home. Most of the humor in the film is centers around Hackett being seemingly unable to catch a break when it comes to getting the requisite $1.50 necessary to pay for the late-night subway ticket. He curses the heavens throughout the film wondering why he is being tormented by what may be the worst confluence of events ever in one evening for such a genuinely unextraordinary man.

Dunne is fantastic in the film as the yuppie Paul, a role entirely unlike the one he is most well known for as the undead Jack from An American Werewolf in London. There’s a real sense of harried discontent with the character who doesn’t realize how in over his head until he has to run from an angry mob of vigilantes convinced he’s a serial thief. He’s the personification of the upper-middle working class of the ’80s who attempted to seem cultures and nouveau all the while continually looking in the mirror inspecting their perfectly quaffed hair. He works a 9-to-5 job yet reads Henry Miller alone in a cafe right before embarking on his Milleresque adventure.

The imagery of the mid-’80s New York helps create a sense of dread and paranoia that allows fuel Paul’s adventure throughout the evening. Almost everyone he meets throughout the film is wary of him and exhibit a distrust of strangers to the point of violence. It’s ironic that the rising action of the film is two strangers meeting in a cafe yet devolves into an entire neighborhood on the hunt for Paul primarily due to him being an outsider. The dark streets and foreboding shadows in the film would feel more at home in The Warriors, but it works to reinforce the unwelcoming nature of New York and, specifically, the inhabitants of SoHo. Since the film takes place exclusively, aside from the beginning and end, at night, Paul never gets a second to rest as it seems the city continues to bear down on him. Scorsese knows how to shoot New York in a way that maximizes the effect it’s narrow alleys and dark corners.

Where After Hours should sit in the hierarchy of Scorsese’s filmography is a hard question to answer as it touches upon similar themes from some of his more well-known films but does it in a way that much more humorous and frenetic. It’s a film that isn’t as grand in scale as Silence or even Goodfellas but has the same cinematic quality and direction that has become common from Scorsese. It would be perfectly paired with the aforementioned The Warriors as a double feature as they both expose the grittier side of late ’70s early ’80s New York along with themes of paranoia and isolation. It’s one of Scorsese’s more exceptional films and one that deserves praise as much as his more mainstream classics.

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Chris Stachiw is the Editor-in-Chief and co-host of the Kulturecast. He's a native Californian with a penchant for sarcasm and a taste for the cinematic bizarre. You'll often find him wandering the wasteland of Nebraska searching for the meaning of life and possibly another rare Pokemon.
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