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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
Afterglow (1997)

"You take plumbing and a woman's nature—they're both unpredictable and filled with hidden mysteries. All a man can do is service them properly so they flow the way they're supposed to."
- Lucky Mann (Nick Nolte)

Review By: Robert Edwards  
Published: October 12, 2003

Stars: Nick Nolte, Julie Christie, Lara Flynn Boyle, Jonny Lee Miller
Director: Alan Rudolph

MPAA Rating: R for sexuality and some language
Run Time: 01h:54m:09s
Release Date: October 14, 2003
UPC: 043396085602
Genre: romantic comedy

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Alan Rudolph began as an assistant to the great Robert Altman, and in many ways could be considered his protégé. Beginning in the late 1970s, he directed a number of critically well-received films such as Remember My Name, Choose Me, and Trouble in Mind. In a parallel with Altman's ever-changing career arc, in the late '80s and '90s Rudolph veered off into less personal genre pieces, which were predictably less interesting, but his most recent effort, The Secret Lives of Dentists, shows him back at the top of his form.

Rudolph's best pieces are his relationship dramas, which are all slightly hyper-realistic, with a strong sense of place, non-naturalistic dialogue, quirky characters, and unusual decor. Within this framework, his characters cross paths, their relationships intersecting and recombining in unpredictable ways. He's not trying to achieve true realism, but rather a sort of poetic realism, where the truth about people and how they interact stands out against the artificiality of the setting. And 1997's Afterglow, which Rudolph has described as a grown-up version of 1984's Choose Me, is a primary example of this strategy.

The tale of two couples accidentally exchanging partners, Afterglow features Nick Nolte as Lucky Mann, a handyman with "Lucky-Fix-It-Man" painted on the side of his truck. He hasn't had sex with his ex-actress wife Phyllis (Julie Christie) for a long time, for reasons that are revealed in the course of the film, but that doesn't mean he's not getting any—with the full knowledge and consent of his wife, he plays around every chance he gets. Meanwhile, Jeffrey Byron (Jonny Lee Miller), successful businessman, is withholding sex from his wife Marianne (Lara Flynn Boyle), possibly due to his attraction to older women. But Marianne has an agenda of her own—desperate for a baby, and frustrated with her husband's refusal to cooperate, she decides she'll go it on her own, if need be.

All of the above is revealed in the first few minutes of the movie, but other than in very general terms, the plot of the film is much less predictable than one might guess from such a schematic setup. The characters' desires and wishes are partially fulfilled, or completely fulfilled, or not at all, and it's fascinating to see how Rudolph (who also wrote the script) takes them on their various journeys, all of which intersect and overlap, leading the film to its conclusion, a satisfying mix of closure and non-closure.

But it's not just the plot that's interesting here—Rudolph is a consummate visual stylist, using not only framing and mise en scène, but also camera placement, distance, and movement to comment on his characters and their emotions. Often the camera moves in and out and around the characters' faces, as if searching for their emotions, and he often pulls back to convey disappointment or despair. The confused mental state of Jeffrey is illustrated several times by turning the camera 180° along its axis, literally turning the world on its head. The characters' isolation is echoed by placing them in a small part of the frame, with a large object (for example, a door) separating them from the rest of the frame. And mirrors are frequently used to reflect their faces, allowing the audience to reflect on their emotions.

As if that wasn't enough, the acting is, predictably, excellent. It seems as though Nick Nolte can do no wrong no matter what role he chooses, and Julie Christie won the Best Actress award from both the New York Film Critics Circle and the National Society of Film Critics for her portrayal of Phyllis. Jonny Lee Miller is also good as the slightly confused yuppy businessman (just watch his face when a co-worker reveals something he'd rather not have known), and Lara Flynn Boyle does good work in the role of the slightly ditzy, but increasingly desperate Marianne.

Mind you, there are some problems with the film. The humor is mostly gentle and character-driven, but Rudolph tries too hard to go for some wacky moments, and they fall flat. And it's hard to imagine a worse choice than sped-up motion to generate laughter. But these minor quibbles aside, the combination of interesting plot, visual style, and stellar acting add up to a satisfying whole and generally excellent film.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: While the colors are strong with some shadow detail, and skin tones are mostly natural, the transfer suffers from an almost-constant softness, verging on blurriness, in the image. While they don't look like compression artifacts, small details are crossed by horizontal lines. The image is so weird-looking that I had to pop in a reference disc to verify that something hadn't gone wrong with my setup, but no, it's all down to the disc.

Image Transfer Grade: C-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes

Audio Transfer Review: The two-channel Dolby surround sound is mostly very good, with a full dynamic range and surround activity when appropriate. Obviously, you wouldn't expect a full-blown sonic spectacular in a character-driven movie such as this, but what you get is entirely fitting and adequate for the film.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Living In Oblivion, Mute Witness, The Spanish Prisoner
Packaging: Keep Case
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Printed insert with chapter listing
Extras Review: I guess one should appreciate the fact that Afterglow is available on DVD at all, but it's disappointing that Columbia chose not to offer any extras that are specific to the film.

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

Alan Rudolph's Afterglow, the tale of two couples whose conflicting desires lead them to intersect and recombine, features strong acting and Rudolph's usual interesting visual style. The problematic transfer shouldn't keep anyone from watching this excellent film.


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