Many great directors have oddities in their back catalogue, films that don't feel like their by the same director, that don't sit amongst the director's body of work. 1941 has long stood out on Steven Spielberg's list (a Comedy!) while Ridley Scott directed Thelma & Louise and Tim Burton's ill fated Planet of the Apes remake does not immediately seem like something you would expect him to create. Often these films stand out because they are of a lower quality than the rest of the director's work but sometimes there is a decent film there that just feels out of character. For Martin Scorsese, his 1985 dark comedy After Hours is such a film. This is perhaps because of the circumstance which surround its creation. A film which the great director very much fell into when his take on the The Last Temptation of Christ was cancelled by the studio just days before he was due to begin shooting, it is borne out of his need to make something and is all the better for it.
Paul, played by Griffin Dunne, is a jobbing word processor who after a long day at the office bumps into a quirky and pretty girl named Marcy in a New York cafe. Later he decides to venture out of his upper east side apartment in search of Marcy and her SoHo residence. So begins a nightmarish journey to the dark side of the city. After a manic taxi ride during which he loses all his money to a gust of wind, he arrives at Marcy's down at heel part of town only to find that there is little chemistry and Marcy is at best a little odd. Marcy lives with an equally eccentric character, a sculptor named Kiki played by Linda Fiorentino. Paul decides to flee the apartment and heads for home on the subway, or rather he would have but for his shortage of funds. Facing a walk home in the teeming rain, he makes for an empty dive bar where the bartender, played by John Heard offers to spot him the train fare if he goes to his apartment to set his burglary alarm. Of course, Paul is mistaken for a thief and is soon being pursued by a murderous mob of vigilantes. Paul is soon running for his life and his night goes from bad to worse as a series of increasingly bizarre events conspire to stop him from getting home.
While the events of Paul's night in SoHo are decidedly bizarre, they always feel plausible and knit together with a veneer of truth. This credibility is necessary to keep the viewer engaged as things go from bad to worse. The character of Paul himself bares each new event with a charm that would be beyond most people and gives him an endearing quality which carries the film to its end.
This kind of dark black comedy is not something which Scorsese would be known for and it would be hard to imagine him making such a film today. That said, the film is replete with the kind of visual displays of talent for which he has long been famed. At one point a set of keys are thrown to Paul from a height, Scorsese shows us this from the point of view of the keys plummeting toward Paul. It is at all times a stylish movie, the director knows his surroundings well and does his best to show this part of the city off. This is New York during the dark days of the 1980's before the mayorship of Rudy Giuliani sought to clean the streets of crime and grime. This is a film very much of its time. The noir elements suit the mood of the film and heighten the feeling of a journey into the unknown for the relative Milquetoast that is Griffin Dunne's Paul.
While Martin Scorsese would go on to bigger and better things, there is much to enjoy in this mid career character piece. It captures both a time and a place which have come to be culturally significant since the film was made. The story, bizarre as it is never feels like an elaborate con job on the audience and if anything holds its own in the manner of many bar tales that begin, "You won't believe what happened to me last night...".