Afterglow

on December 26, 1997 by Kim Williamson
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Alan Rudolph is an acquired taste, but for certain specialized audiences it's a flavor that the likes of "Choose Me," "Trouble in Mind" and "The Moderns" have made almost narcotic. Even fans of the one-time Robert Altman acolyte, however, might instead be anesthetized by his latest. "Afterglow," though bearing fine performances by Nick Nolte and Julie Christie as a husband and wife whose marriage was long ago rent asunder by the angry departure of their daughter, just doesn't burn bright the way Rudolph works usually do.
The fault appears to lie in the writing; in other films quixotic and even cutting, Rudolph's scripting here is too underpowered to effectively deal with the large emotions he wants to put on display. Occasionally, Rudolph even seems all too pleased with himself, as when the Mr. Fix-It plumber played by Nolte says to the troubled young wife (Lara Flynn Boyle) who's about to become the latest in the lothario's long line of extramarital affairs, "I might not know what I like, but I know what art is." It's amusing, and you smile, but it leads nowhere.
Elsewhere, this Sony Classics pickup has some audience-pleasing elements; as always for Rudolph, the very focused yet off-kilter nature of the sets is both entertaining and thematically effective. But the film's biggest virtue is Christie: Gone from the movies for a number of years and then returning disappointingly in such fare as "Dragonheart," the former beauty has matured into a screen presence that here is equally arresting for her ability to capture her character's inner fire.
Southern California native Alan Rudolph once said that he misses the smaller L.A. of his childhood because back then it had the aromas of life--earth, grasses, gardens--in its atmosphere. It's a simple yet remarkable comment, exactly of the type that appears too infrequently in "Afterglow." The only illumination this film brings audiences is the house lights coming up after. Starring Nick Nolte, Julie Christie, Lara Flynn Boyle and Jonny Lee Miller. Directed and written by Alan Rudolph. Produced by Robert Altman. A Sony Classics release. Drama. Rated R for sexuality and some language. Running time: 113 min.
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