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After Dark My Sweet
1990 - R - 114 Mins.
Director: James Foley
Producer: Robert Redlin
Written By: Jim Thompson, James Foley
Starring: Jason Patric, Rachel Ward, Bruce Dern, George Dickerson
Review by: Harrison Cheung
Film noir is less a film genre than a film fashion statement. And in 1990, ‘After Dark My Sweet’ was part of a revival of film noir and a rediscovery of the pulp fiction by Jim Thompson, who also wrote ‘The Grifters’ and ‘The Getaway.’

What is film noir? Here’s a good Filmsite definition: “It is a style of American films that first evolved in the 1940s, became prominent in the post-war era, and lasted in a classic period until about 1960. The criminal, violence or greed elements in film noir are a metaphoric symptom of society's evils, with a strong undercurrent of moral conflict.” The heroines are always using their sexuality to control and double-cross. And the heroes are usually desperate, lonely losers.

Directed by James Foley (‘Confidence,’ ‘Glengarry Glen Ross’) and now finally available on DVD, ‘After Dark My Sweet’ starred Jason Patric, Rachel Ward and Bruce Dern. Ward, best known for her role in the miniseries ‘The Thornbirds,’ plays Fay, an alcoholic widow living on a dried up and neglected date plantation in Indio, California. She picks up Collie (Patric), a handsome drifter at the local bar ostensibly to work on her plantation. She develops an attraction for her dark and grungy boytoy and soon involves him in a complicated kidnapping scheme with her odd friend and associate, Uncle Bud (Dern).

‘After Dark My Sweet’ is a brilliant drama that takes some film noir clichés and turns them upside down into this smoldering, sexy sun bleached story about tragic love and betrayal. The movie relaunched Jason Patric’s career as a SERIOUS actor – he was originally teen idol material when he starred in the forgettable ‘Solar Babies’ and everyone’s favorite vampire movie from the 1980s ‘The Lost Boys.’ Unfortunately, Patric hasn’t been able to sustain a career of brilliance to match this wonderful start – ‘Speed 2’ anyone?

Patric is amazing as Collie, an ex-boxer who’s given up on life after accidentally killing someone in the ring. From his slow and steady way of speaking, his measured gait, and his clenched fists, Patric conveys the very essence of a former boxer who's been in one round too many. And Bruce Dern also delivers a memorable performance as the conniving, rodent-like Uncle Bud, who thinks he can use and manipulate the drunken widow and the seemingly simple-minded ex-boxer.

The three principals, at first glance, are all unsavory characters but the actors give them a full-bloodedness that make the characters’ motivations ring with real life. In a key supporting and pivotal role, George Dickerson is superbly effective as the creepy, abusive doctor. Only Rachel Ward makes a few missteps when she’s on drunken binges – you get the feeling that she only recently studied ‘drunkenness’ in acting class.

Unlike typical film noirs, which prefer to stay in the shadows, ‘After Dark My Sweet’, accomplishes the same moodiness while shooting in the bleached out California desert sun. The cinematography plays with 1950s pastels, conveying a timelessness. Fay’s dried up plantation is a clear metaphor that this lascivious widow has been anxiously waiting for someone to water her trees!

The story is moodily slow-paced, with a haunting Maurice Jarre soundtrack, but soon tenses up as the trio get tangled into their faulty kidnapping scheme that gets complicated with murder. There’s almost a David Lynch/’Blue Velvet’ sort of oddity about the pacing that only adds to the film’s appeal. The tension builds to a brilliant confrontation between Fay and Kevin, when she discovers that Kevin is not what he appears to be. It’s classic Jim Thompson– violent, tragic and irreparable – a searing moment.

When ‘After Dark My Sweet’ was making the film festival circuit, there was much talk about the extended and explicit (for 1990) love scene. James Foley seems to take great pleasure in jagged scenes of violence and sex, as unexpected as a sucker punch. Looking at the movie again, the love scene still seems ravenous if not as controversial as before. But what a pleasure that, after 14 years, the film is still fresh and exciting - a tribute to Foley's stylish choices. ‘After Dark My Sweet’ remains a classic noir thriller and a showcase of Jason Patric at his best.
Movie Guru Rating
An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater.
  4 out of 5 stars

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