This is a review from early in the run of The Reel Thing, the 90FM movie review show that was conceived twenty-five years ago this summer. (Twenty-five years! Oy!) Plying our critical trade in dinky Stevens Point, Wisconsin made it difficult to fill a weekly, hour-long show with only releases that made it to one of our nine screens. So there were periodic jaunts to the metropolis of Madison to watch and then review films that were probably never going to land in our little burg. This episode this review was drawn from was heavy with those out-of-town titles. Besides After Dark, My Sweet, we also covered The Lemon Sisters and Mo’ Better Blues, the latter an example of film that did eventually spend a sparsely attended week in one of our theaters. I remember feeling fairly intimidated when it came to writing this review. I also screwed up on air and referred to Jason Patric as Bruce Patrick. I’m not sure where that came from. Maybe I was getting his name jumbled up with co-star Bruce Dern. Or maybe I had yet another very different actor in mind.
AFTER DARK, MY SWEET tells the story of an ex-boxer and escaped mental patient named Kevin “Collie” Collins. Collins is a drifter, a slave to the road who romans from town to town in an aimless search for direction. At his latest stop, he meets up with an attractive widow, Fay Anderson, who gives him some hope of finding a place for himself, and Uncle Bud, a disgraced ex-policeman who pulls “Collie” into a scheme to kidnap a rich man’s son. The three of them go in together on the crime and have to deal with conflicts, inner turmoil, and unexpected complications.
Much of the first part of the film shows how Collie integrates with the people in his life and sets the viewer up for the second half as Collie tries to tell deception from honesty and lies from the truth. He’s trapped with people he can’t trust, including himself. Collie is exceptionally well-played by Jason Patric, probably best known for his role in the 1987 Joel Schumacher film “The Lost Boys.” His Collie is a battered puppy, weakened by the world but still holding a fire in his heart and a spark in his eye. Collie’s shambling walk conceals a tightly coiled spring, ready to strike out at any time. Also quite good are Rachel Ward as Fay and Bruce Dern as Uncle Bud. Ward downplays her beauty and gives solid depth to Fay’s many frantically changing emotions, and Dern lends his perfected sense of quiet menace to Uncle Bud.
The film is also given a strong boost by James Foley’s very able direction and his screenplay, adapted from the late Jim Thompson’s 1955 novel. The film is not without its flaws, though. The sequences after the kidnapping aren’t as riveting as the earlier portion of the film, in no small part because the young boy Charlie, played by James Cotton, is treated as nothing more than a prop. He shows no fear and in fact no real emotion at all. And some of the scenes are written with a bit too much of a melodramatic edge, leaving the actors to fly on uncontrollable and unbelievable fits of emotion. But AFTER DARK, MY SWEET has more than enough to compensate for these flaws. It’s a movie worth seeing and Jason Patric delivers a performance worth seeing.
(3 stars, out of 4)