Everybody knows “Taxi Driver”, everybody knows “Goodfellas”, everybody knows “Cape Fear”, but a little known film from legendary director Martin Scorsese that film buffs rarely ever talk about is Scorsese’s vastly under-appreciated 1985 dark comedy “After Hours”. This intriguing, funny, and sometimes mind-blowing film takes place in the grim lonely streets of downtown Manhattan where a workaday word processor named Paul Hackett meets a young girl at a cafe. The two spark up a conversation and he calls her trying to set up a date with her. Seeking a change from the monotony of his everyday routine, Paul travels downtown for a late night rendezvous with Marcy (Rosanna Arquette), a shy beautiful girl who seems innocent enough. What starts off as a gentle tale ends up as a horrifying nightmare.
The trouble begins after all of Paul’s money is blown out a window in his speeding taxi; if that isn’t bad enough he’s out in the middle of nowhere in downtown Manhattan and when he does meet up with Marcy she ends up being a complete loony; after he ditches her in fear of her psychotic rambling, he doesn’t realize what he’s gotten himself into and that his wish for a break from his every day life is about to be answered in the harshest of ways. The old saying goes “Be careful what you wish for”, and “After Hours” perfectly defines the term with a film that serves as more of a cautionary tale of breaking free from your everyday life with a climax that screams irony. Griffin Dunne (An American Werewolf in London) is excellent as an average Joe who is flung into an extraordinary situation that he has no control over.
Now without enough money to get back home on the subway, he has to find a way to go home, but must cross paths with a range of odd balls throughout Manhattan in a desperate scramble to return to his normal life. On the search for a way out of the hectic neighborhood he comes across a number of odd people, including Linda Fiorentino as a Goth sculptress, Cheech and Chong who make a range of comedic appearances as thieves who constantly run into Paul on the street, Teri Garr as a fifties obsessed woman whose entire apartment is like a frenzied display of nostalgia (whose bed is surrounded by mouse traps). There’s John Heard as a kindly bar owner who accidentally sets up Paul in a crime, a diner owner with a grudge to settle with Paul, and (in possibly the funniest of roles) the hilarious Catherine O’Hara as Gail a psychotic woman who begins making Paul’s life miserable.
What makes this film intriguing is the way New York is portrayed with such a grim, bleak, surreal, and deserted tone as Paul is forced to find a way out of a specific area despite the fact he knows where he is. It’s odd how Scorsese portrays the city he usually expresses his love for. New York was also portrayed as a bleak landscape in films like “Taxi Driver”, and “Gangs of New York”, but in “After Hours” it feels like a moving painting by artist Salvador Dali. The character Paul is so close to home, but oh so far and will stop at nothing to escape his nightmare. Dunne presents a quiet desperation in his hilarious and likable character and is put through non-stop carnage by the oddities he’s confronted with, Dunne is at his best here and gives the same quirky, charming, and off the wall performance he gave in “An American Werewolf in London”; the all-star cast of character actors make the film ever more charming and strange.
Scorsese goes with a complete change in tone and story pacing with none of his usual actors he works with and seems to direct a film that would be basically unrecognizable as one of his to a regular film go-er. Paul is put through endless torture and torment as he’s nearly shaved bald in a club by a mob of party-goers, has a confrontation with a diner owner, a taxi driver, a subway officer, can’t seem to find a working phone to call his friend, is nearly attacked by the Fiorentino character’s angry boyfriend, and, perhaps a truly damaging blow, when he attempts to call the police for help is rudely hung up on. And when you think his situation couldn’t get any worse, you’re immediately proven wrong when he discovers his date Marcy dead in her apartment, is framed for her murder and is accused of a rash of serial robberies in the neighborhood.
To top it off, Paul is being stalked and chased by an utterly relentless neighborhood lynch mob who wants to tear him to shreds. The climax is simply mind-blowing as Paul is encased in plaster posing as a sculpture by an odd club owner to keep him hidden from the lynch mob and is stolen by the very thieves he keep crossing, and is dropped from a truck breaking free from his body cast landing right in front of his office building, the very place he sought to break free from which becomes his safe haven as he walks through its golden gates back into his old life; watch for the last minutes as Paul sits at his desk with a new found respect and an immense amount of relief growing a new found love for his regular mundane monotonous life. This is one of Scorsese’s best, and one of my favorites of his.