After Dark My Sweet (1990): James Foley Noir Melodrama Starring Jason Patric

James Foley’s brisk, entertaining contemporary noir melodrama is about the kind of sleazy characters that populated California crime literature and drama in the 1930s and 1940s.

After Dark, My Sweet

Theatrical release poster

Again revolving around a triangle, this film noir that involves the intertwined destines of three boozy lowlifes. Collie (Jason Patric) is a near-psychopathic ex-boxer, who left the ring after killing a competitor. He becomes involved with Fay (Rachel Ward), a seductive, alcoholic widow, and Uncle Budd (Bruce Dern), a sleazy former lawman, and is drawn into their scheme to get rich quick by kidnapping the young scion of a wealthy local family

The film is based on a 1955 novel by prolific tough-guy novelist Jim Thompson, who also worked on the screenplays of “The Killing” and “Paths of Glory,” both directed by Stanley Kubrick, in 1956 and 1957, respectively. Two other Thompson novels, Stephen Frears’ “The Grifters” and Maggie Greenwald’s “The Kill-Off,” were also turned into movies, both in 1990.

Setting then film in the Californian desert, gives the film an orange-red glare. Foley (“Reckless,” “At Close Range”) and cinematographer Mark Plummer deftly conjure the sense of stifling containment that drives these characters to sex, drink, and crime.

Foley’s earlier work includes Madonna’s underrated film, “Who’s That Girl” and the moody but compromised father-son melodrama, “At Close Range”. However, in this film, quite successfully, Foley keeps every element in the right scale: the plot twists and turns, the characterization, and the visual style.

While faithful to the spirit of the novel, Redlin’s script doesn’t fully flesh out the characters, and his dialogue often flattens Thompson’s more ambiguous and shadowy notes.

Even so, Jason Patric, in one of his best roles, gives a dominant, smoldering performance. Rachel Ward, who also played the femme fatale in Taylor Hackford’s noir remake, “Against All Odds,” looks right but fails to register the mysterious or alluring radiance of a convincing femme fatale.

Continuing a streak of villainous roles, Bruce Dern gives yet another unpleasant performance but his rendition is not as charmingly creepy (or it is creepily charming) as Dennis Hopper or Harry Dean Stanton would have been in that role.

Made on a budget of $6 million, the movie received mixed reviews but was a commercial flop at the box-office.


Released by Avenue
Running time: 114 min

Producers: Ric Kidney, Robert Redlin
Director: James Foley
Screenplay: James Foley and Redlin (based on the novel by Jim Thompson)
Camera: Mark Plummer
Editing Howard Smith
Music: Murice Jarre
Art Direction: Keeneth A. Hardy


Collie (Jason Patric)
Fay (Rachel Ward)
Uncle Bud (Bruce Dern)
Doc Goldman (George Dickerson)
Charlie (James Cotton)
Jack (Corey Carrier)


Directed by James Foley
Produced by Ric Kidney
Robert Redlin
Screenplay by James Foley, Robert Redlin, based on After Dark, My Sweet by Jim Thompson
Music by Maurice Jarre
Cinematography Mark Plummer
Edited by Howard E. Smith

Production and Distribution: Avenue Pictures

Release date: May 17, 1990 (Cannes Film Market); August 24, 1990 (US)

Budget $6 million
Box office $2.7 million