Undoubtedly, Martin Scorsese is one of the greatest directors in the history of cinema. His legacy of classics is unparalleled, and he has constantly pushed the limits of the industry, redefining the medium time and time again. While his films like Raging Bull, Taxi Driver, Goodfellas, Casino, The Departed, The Wolf of Wall Street, and The Irishman are well-known, his track record goes even deeper than that.
Scorsese’s masterpiece The King of Comedy is a timeless classic about the dangers of media obsession that inspired Todd Phillips’ creation of Joker. He also faced significant backlash when he pushed the boundaries of religious expressionism with his depiction of Jesus Christ’s life in the historical film The Last Temptation of Christ.
Why After Hours Is Another Martin Scorsese Masterpiece
Similarly, Scorsese’s films like Silence, Hugo, Gangs of New York, Shutter Island, The Aviator, and even his concert film Take This Waltz may not be on the same level as Taxi Driver but are classics nonetheless. However, one film that stands out as the funniest, boldest, and most energetic of his entire career is 1985’s After Hours. Sadly, it’s a film that many of his fans have never seen.
Set in Scorsese’s favorite location of New York City, After Hours follows the adventures of Griffin Dunne’s character, Paul Hackett, as he tries to meet single women after work. However, things take a tumultuous turn when he finds himself blamed for murder, accused of a series of crimes, and hunted down by the city, making him the most wanted man. Dunne’s performance in the film is Oscar-worthy, and he portrays Paul’s subtle pretentiousness perfectly. The film’s physicality, combined with Dunne’s performance, makes it one of the most underrated films in Scorsese’s repertoire.
One of Scorsese’s recurring themes is guilt, often influenced by religious anxiety. Still, he also understands how the pressures of dating, relationships, and sexuality can create anxieties and demands for young men that make it challenging to make rational decisions. After Hours is a brilliant satire of masculinity, showing how Paul’s fears of being blamed for his sexual desire are realized when he essentially becomes a fugitive every time he stumbles into a romantic encounter. Like every Scorsese protagonist, Paul faces the consequences of his actions, leaving him to live the same miserable life as a desk worker. The film’s funniest moment comes when Paul considers what else he could be blamed for while on the run.
While Scorsese is often considered a “serious filmmaker,” he has shown time and time again that he has a great sense of humor. Even his darkest films have elements of comedy, and he has made a few straight-up comedies, including After Hours. Compared to The Wolf of Wall Street, which is crazier and has an element of physicality, After Hours is a madcap series of escapades that feel like a Judd Apatow film. This is likely due to Scorsese’s youth, as he had the energy of a young filmmaker interested in getting as many jokes in as possible. After Hours should not be considered a “lesser” film in Scorsese’s career, but a different one that showcases his incredible craftsmanship.
Martin Scorsese is unquestionably one of the best directors in film history, as his legacy of classics is nearly unmatched compared to any other filmmaker. Scorsese has redefined the industry time and time again, and it’s often that he pushed the boundaries of the medium when other filmmakers don’t have the energy to do so. While Scorsese is best known for classics such as Raging Bull, Taxi Driver, Goodfellas, Casino, The Departed, The Wolf of Wall Street, and The Irishmanhis track record goes even deeper than that.
Scorsese’s masterpiece The King of Comedy is a timeless classic about the perils of media obsession that clearly inspired Todd Phillips’ creation of the comic book film Jokerand Scorsese met some of the most significant backlash of his career when he pushed the boundaries of religious expressionism with his depiction of the life of Jesus Christ in the historical film The Last Temptation of the Christ. Similarly, films like Silence, Hugo, Gangs of New York, Shutter Island, The Aviator, and even his concert film Take This Waltz may not be considered to be on the same level as Taxi Driverbut are classics nonetheless.
However, Scorsese directed one 1985 film that stands as the funniest, boldest, and most energetic film of his entire career, and it’s sadly one that many of his fans have never seen. Here’s why After Hours is one of his greatest masterpieces.
Griffin Dunne’s Amazing Performance
Griffin Dunne is best known for his performance in An American Werewolf in Londonbut his performance in After Hours was Oscar-worthy. Set within Scorsese’s favorite location of New York City, After Hours follows the adventures of Dunne’s character Paul Hackett as he attempts to meet up with single women after work. The night becomes more tumultuous when Paul find himself blamed for murder, accused of a series of crimes, and hunted down by a city that has now made him the #1 most wanted man.
In some ways, Paul represents a different side to the “New York bachelor” than the one that Robert De Niro played in TaxI Driver and The King of Comedy; he’s very unassuming, nervous, and doesn’t have any ambitions. However, there’s a subtle pretentiousness to Paul that Dunne brings out perfectly. It’s a very different type of comedic performance than the one that Dunne gave in An American Werewolf in Londonwhich was more physically demanding. Nonetheless, Dunne adds some aspects of his physicality once Dunne goes on the run, proving again why he’s one of the industry’s most underrated actors in film history.
The Creative Satire of Masculinity
Anyone familiar with Scorsese’s work knows that guilt is a recurring theme through almost all of his films. Much of this guilt has to do with the anxiety that comes with religious anxiety; this is seen with Willem Dafoe’s Jesus in The Last Temptation of ChristHarvey Keitel’s character in Mean Streetsand Andrew Garfield’s role in Silence. However, Scorsese also simply understands how the pressures of dating, relationships, and sexuality can create anxieties and demands for young men that make it more challenging to make rational decisions.
Whether it’s Henry Hill in GoodfellasJordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall StreetHoward Hughes in The Aviatoror even Jimmy Hoffa in The IrishmanScorsese has a monopoly on characters that would be considered to be “toxic men.” Whether Paul fits those same standards is both an amusing and complex question. Obviously, Paul isn’t murdering anyone, but his yearning for relationships are seemingly unquenchable. Scorsese finds brilliant ways to show how Paul’s fears of being blamed for his sexual desire are realized when he essentially becomes a fugitive every time he stumbles into a romantic encounter.
Like every Scorsese protagonist, Paul ends up facing the consequences for his actions. While Mean Streets doesn’t end with the same series of arrests that Goodfellas, The Wolf of Wall Street, or Raging Bull do, Paul is left to live the same miserable life as a desk worker that he had before. One of the funniest moments in the film comes a few scenes earlier when he’s on the run, and considers what other things he could possibly be blamed for.
His Funniest Film to Date
It’s ironic that Scorsese is so often considered to be a “serious filmmaker,” as he’s shown more often than not that he has a great sense of humor. Perhaps it’s Scorsese’s association with gangster movies that sting him with this reputation, but even those have an element of comedy to them; who could forget the hilarious “am I a clown?” speech that Joe Pesci delivers in Goodfellasor the uproarious argument Pesci shares with De Niro in Casino? There’s generally an element of humor in even Scorsese’s darkest films, and he’s even made a few straight-up comedies in their own right.
When determining Scorsese’s funniest film, it’s a close call between After Hours and The Wolf of Wall Street. The Wolf of Wall Street is certainly the crazier of the two, as there’s an element of physicality that Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill bring in that is derived directly from the wild source material. Between drugs, wild office parties, and bribes, The Wolf of Wall Street is utilizing true stories that often feel like they’d be considered too unbelievable to be fiction. However, there’s also a strong element of satire in The Wolf of Wall Streetas it’s about how susceptible people are to the power of influence.
Comparatively, After Hours feels like the sort of madcap series of escapades that a filmmaker like Judd Apatow would make now, albeit without Scorsese’s incredible craftsmanship. This may be in part due to Scorsese’s youth, as he clearly had the energy of a young filmmaker who was interested in getting in as many jokes as possible. It shouldn’t be considered to be a “lesser” film in his career at all, but a different one!