More 80s thrillers. More Raul Julia. And maybe the start of a mini-Sidney Lumet marathon in memory of the great director.
Even great directors make bad films and The Morning After is one of them. The pretty solid cast – Julia, Jeff Bridges and Jane Fonda – can’t make up for weak writing. I included Jane Fonda in the solid cast. She’s actually terrible in this. I mean almost unbearable to watch.
Fonda plays alcoholic, washed up actress Alex Sternbergen who wakes up next to a murdered man with no recollection of how she got there or what happened. Amidst her clumsy and annoyingly stupid attempts at escape she comes across Turner Kendall (Bridges) a retired cop who has a slow-country attitude and whose demeanor is either suspicious or as genuine as a Frank Capra protagonist. Turner helps Alex out, but she can’t stop drinking, and the body of the dead man keeps turning up in random places. The only person she can go to is her ex-husband and smooth-as-silk hairdresser Jacky Manero (Julia).
A major problem, aside from Fonda’s laughable attempts at drunkenness and drama, is the score by Paul Chihara. This is the same guy that scored Death Race 2000 (a far superior film). I can deal with the 80s synths, but the music is so misleading. Chihara and Lumet attempt to replace narrative and visual suspense and clues with cued music. One unintentionally funny moment shows Turner turning out all of the lights while Alex is passed out. The score suddenly changes from romantic to dark in his closeup…and then he leaves. It’s an attempt to make the whodunit part of this film deeper and to foreshadow the dead body turning up again, but it’s so ridiculously planned and telegraphed.
Here’s another problem with The Morning After: very little that’s interesting actually takes place (ie the script sucks). Lumet and screenwriter James Cresson start off flying high with the fast setup all taking place in the first five minutes, but the rest of the film fizzles out quickly and resorts to overlong, histrionic dialogue, manufactured suspense from the score or furrowed eyebrows, and a generally uninteresting burgeoning relationship between Alex and Turner.
Which leads into the next problem: there is absolutely zero believable chemistry between Bridges and Fonda. Chemistry is a nebulous thing that is difficult to quantify or foresee, but is completely visible (or, in this case, invisible) on-screen. Whose fault is a lack of chemistry? The casting director? Probably. The director? Very likely. The actors? Possibly. Whoever is at fault, the song and dance that these two actors give falls completely flat. Much has to do with the writing, which depends on repetition and commonality to show the progress in their “love.” It doesn’t work.
My last major problem: the “twist” in the film is tacked on in the sense that the factors that come into play to make the twist possible are not even presented to the audience until well past the halfway point. I have no problem with a film that keeps the audience in the dark, that lies to the audience, that misleads, etc, but this film just seems to forget that it needs to introduce plot points and then does so hurriedly and through throwaway dialogue.
Actually one more problem: the last conversation is so interminably long and corny. It’s so so so so bad.
Here’s the good: Jeff Bridges plays his character is gentle but potentially dangerous. You wouldn’t be surprised if he exploded into violence or if he was actually the nicest man in the world. Raul Julia does his dependable thing, though he’s underused.