Film of the Week: After Dark, My Sweet

1990-after-dark-my-sweet-poster1

 

This film by James Foley is a little gem. It is based on a Jim Thompson novel from the mid-50s. Thompson has a number of great books and many of them have been turned into more successful films. When it came out in 1990 it did not do well at the box office, it happens from time to time.

Anyway the film tells the story of Collie, a former pro boxer turned wanderer. A man blundering along from town to town, looking haggard and shifty, annoying every cafe and bar owner along the way. En route on his journey to nowhere he meets a widow who can’t help but join in on the joke. A brief glimpse of Collie defending himself shows hidden depths. Her derision turns to curiosity. And so without realising Collie has stumbled into a scheme to make some easy money.

This is classed at film noir but perhaps many will have a different view of what that means. It certainly doesn’t share any cinematic lineage with any Bogart era movies.There are no dutch angles. No over stylized shadows or fooling around with colour grading. This is a strange case of a modern noir where the actors take centre stage. And this is the most compelling thing for me.

Jason Patric might be known as the guy who had to replace Keanu Reeves in Speed 2. Damn shame he was pigeon-holed like that. Because here he is great to watch. He starts off as this bumbling fool who gets occasional flashbacks to his boxing past. Gradually we learn that his punchiness is a mask he wears, or is it? That Patric can manage to keep us all guessing right up to the end credits means he must have some chops. I found him to be excellent here.

Then there’s Bruce Dern. What a snivelly crafty old bugger he is here. Uncle Bud. Everybody knows an Uncle Bud. Been doing things half-assed all his life then someone new comes along that he expects to fix it all for him. Dern though is not bitter. Instead, he is determined to prove to Collie that he is much smarter. It is a curiously written character because it doesn’t rely on the ‘woe is me’ cliche.

I am still undecided on Rachel Ward, who plays Fay. Initially, I was thinking, this actress is just annoying me. She isn’t selling it. Gradually again though, her performance began to make sense. She walks like an awkward teenage farm girl, she is constantly drinking. She is frustrated with her own shitty life and takes it out on the nearest person to her, usually Collie. It might actually be a great performance after all

You have to understand that this whole thing takes a little while to get going. I watched the first twenty minutes last year on a slow stream and didn’t show much determination to stick with it. This time I was more ready, though I did take a nap in between. No offence to the film, I do that with a lot of good ones when I’m home.

There is a lovely closing theme on the end credits by Maurice Jarre, which could have been utilized a little more I felt.

But yeah, I really dig this film. If you do get around to it, check it out. Give it a chance. You’ll not be disappointed.

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