I can see why everyone continually raves about James Foley’s 1990 neo-noir crime film After Dark, My Sweet – it’s one of the most brilliant genre exercises that quietly slipped under the cinematic radar when it was first released. Grossing under $5 million during its entire (albeit limited) theatrical run, critics did back-flips (Ebert most notably), but maybe it was the lack of huge star power or the intrinsic nature of the genre that relegated this one to the sidelines. I’ve seen this film a few times now, but on first glance, I knew nothing about the plot of this twisty suspense piece before viewing, and I’d encourage anyone who hasn’t seen After Dark, My Sweet to avoid any spoilers and just check it out with as little knowledge as possible. Starring Jason Patric (also see Rush for another wildly underrated gem from the 90’s), Bruce Dern, and Rachel Ward and based on the 1955 Jim Thompson novel of the same name, the action is set outside of Palm Springs, and involves an ex-boxer (Patric), his new and mysterious lover (Ward), and an ex-cop turned criminal with a kidnapping scheme (Dern) that of course goes wrong but not in the ways you’d expect. Foley’s visceral direction keeps the suspense at a tight coil, resulting in a film that never fails to excite.
That’s all I will say about the mechanics of the story. What I will say is that Patric delivered yet another exceptional, deeply internal performance, Dern was fantastic as an odd sleaze-ball, and Ward, an actress I’m not incredibly familiar with, was all sorts of sultry and intense, delivering a laser focused performance that plays with the notion of the femme fatale while also embracing her character as a full-fledged individual. Maurice Jarre’s score is wonderful, suggesting temptation at almost every turn, and Mark Plummer’s measured and controlled cinematography heightens the anxiety and dangerous atmosphere at all times, and is in perfect tandem with Howard E. Smith’s tight editing. There’s an epic sex scene between Patric and Ward that is shot and cut in a most unique manner, resulting in one of the most erotic spectacles of cinematic lovemaking that I’ve ever seen in a film, and as usual for Foley, the film exists outside of the normalized margins, with a rough and dirty aesthetic that fits perfect with the fatalistic narrative. The film premiered at Cannes, was released in late August 25 years ago, and it barely made a blip. This is one to track down on DVD (it’s a $10 purchase) or via streaming providers as it’ll completely knock you out.