After Dark, My Sweet

This is a strange movie, but good - it felt just like reading the source material that it was based on, which is awesome. Today I watched After Dark, My Sweet, directed by James Foley in 1990. It's based on a Jim Thompson novel which I haven't read, but I've read other novels of his, and I know the sort of things he writes. He was a great pulp fiction writer, someone who tackled the darker and more insane side of noir. His novels often dealt with protagonists who were insane, or at least the ones that I've read. This movie felt similar to me - it was darker and a little crazier than most noir, and more of an exploration of bad choices and despair than just straight up crime.

It's full of interesting characters, and I liked watched how the acted and changed over the course of the movie. The plot is important, yes, but what is more important is how the characters react to it. It sounds sort of obvious, but it feels different than some other movies, which might just focus on how characters carry out a crime, not necessarily how it changes them to do it.

The film is about "Ex-boxer Kevin "Kid" Collins is a drifter and an escapee from a mental hospital. He meets Fay Anderson, a widow, who convinces him to help fix up the neglected estate her ex-husband left. "Uncle Bud" talks them both into helping kidnap a rich boy for ransom money, and the ex-fighter must make decisions about his loyalties and what is right," (Wikipedia).

Kevin is an odd character. We hear much of this thoughts in voice over narration, which is helpful. It shows how much he's really thinking about the situations that he's in, even though he might not act like it. He seems drawn to Faye and Uncle Bud, and even when offered a different life, he can't stomach it, and returns to Faye. I think it's interesting that he's escaped from a mental hospital - he seems to make quite a bit of sense. He clearly, as Ebert points out, has the ability to function in society, but is not confidant enough to anymore. That's almost darker and more unnerving than if he wasn't able to function at all. His insanity is there, but he seems so much like us that we can still relate to him.

The movie is dark not so much because it's about kidnapping, but because in Thompson's world, everyone is just moving towards despair, failure, and doom. The would-be criminals are pretty incompetent, so we know its only a matter of time before things start to go wrong. When they do, it's fascinating to watch how they struggle to stay afloat in the situations. I liked that it didn't play up the humor that is often found in these sort of situations (Fargo is a great example of dark humor about incompetent criminals), but it stays sort of ugly and sad. It doesn't try to make the characters more likable so we care if they succeed or not, and it doesn't try to help them as they flounder. We just have to watch them, which is different and great. I definitely had conflicted feelings about the characters at points in the film, and I like movies that can make that happen.

Yikes, I didn't realize it was getting so late! I have a busy day at work tomorrow and I want to make sure I'm rested! I noticed my blog posts are always timestamped wrong. It's actually after midnight here, which isn't that late, but it is for me when I have to get up at 6am. :) I hope that you check out this movie if you love noir - it's one of the best modern noirs that I've seen in a long time. Thompson is a weird, strange writer, and people often shy away from adapting his novels because of the darkness or violence. But he knew what noir and pulp fiction was about, and I loved that this movie seemed to be faithful to his disturbing vision.

Have any thoughts about After Dark, My Sweet? Share them in the comments!

Ebert's Great Movie Essay on After Dark, My Sweet
Buy it on Amazon

After Hours