Past Midnight

Do you guys know about this one? How come I never knew about it? Not that PAST MIDNIGHT – a 1991 thriller starring Natasha Richardson, Rutger Hauer and Clancy Brown that went straight to video in ’93 – is very good, but it holds an important enough place in cinematic history that I figure I should’ve heard of it before.

On his commentary track for TRUE ROMANCE, Quentin Tarantino talks about the time before he sold that script and directed RESERVOIR DOGS. He mentions a job at the production company CineTel, where he says he would do punch ups on scripts “which were really page 1 rewrites.” I don’t know if he’s exaggerating that part or not, but I’m sure it’s true that he rewrote a line here or there. So did any of those ever end up getting produced?

Yes, at least one did, and it is PAST MIDNIGHT, Tarantino’s first film credit besides production assistant on Dolph Lundgren’s MAXIMUM POTENTIAL workout video. Associate producer Catalaine Knell thought his contributions to the script were important enough that she shared her credit with him.

Richardson plays Laura Mathews, a social worker in Snohomish, Washington (for real! not Canada!). She gets assigned the case of Ben Jordan (Rutger Hauer), who has just been released after a 15 year bid. He’s notorious in the area because he was convicted of murdering his pregnant wife. You know how gossipy people can be in these small towns, they won’t let something like that go. (It is kinda weird that he only got 15 for that.)

Jordan doesn’t want to talk about it. He never confessed, but seems to enjoy using his reputation to creep Laura out. You know how people who get framed for murder are, they like to make you think they’re gonna kill you, ha ha. She, in what in my opinion constitutes poor judgment, is immediately attracted to him and starts going around talking to people related to the case to try to prove his innocence. He repeatedly warns her not to and sort of threatens her, and anyway he already did his time, so what’s the point? I think she’s just trying to prove it to herself so she can date him.

Brown plays her co-worker who openly has a thing for her and (for good reason) doesn’t think she should date the convicted pregnant-wife-killer. He doesn’t even bring up that it’s unethical and should get her fired. He also wears an orange shirt and tacky tie, possibly to make him the Clarence Worley nerd surrogate character, I’m not sure. He’s very loyal so he spends alot of time fishing outside her house and keeping an eye on her. In a Secret Service way, not a peeping tom way.

Speaking of PEEPING TOM, Jordan (or the real killer, or whatever) filmed the crime on black and white super-8 film. You just see his POV and his hands. I don’t know if he built a head attachment or what. He definitely has a process figured out because when he starts coming after Laura he leaves her a film of her own bathroom with a severed arm in it, leading her to find the severed arm in her bathroom. He cut off somebody’s arm, filmed it and developed it before she got home! This guy knows what he’s doing.

Paul Giamatti has a small role as Larry, a possible witness to the murder who’s also the mildly retarded brother of Jordan’s old buddy (Guy Boyd). He’s so young I didn’t even recognize him at first. Like Tarantino this is pretty much Giamatti’s first film credit (the only thing earlier was “Heckler #2” in the TV movie SHE’LL TAKE ROMANCE starring Linda Evans.)

I think the best scene in the movie is when she goes to talk to the dead wife’s dad. Something weird is going on there – he has pictures of her all over that make it look more like his girlfriend than his daughter. But you kind of side with him anyway because it’s so inappropriate for the social worker of the murderer to come ask him questions. When he figures out who she is and tells her to get the hell out it’s kinda scary because you’re attached to this protagonist who’s in the wrong. You’re like “Come on lady, let’s get the fuck out of here!” The dad is played by Ted D’Arms, a character actor you probly don’t know unless you remember the neighbor in DRUGSTORE COWBOY who goes after the cops with a shotgun because Matt Dillon convinces him they’re peeping toms. D’Arms passed away at the end of last year. I just remember him because he lived in Seattle and I saw him around sometimes, he seemed like a nice guy.

Richardson is good in this, her eyes can’t hide her attraction to Jordan, which she pathetically tries to pass off as professional interest.  But there’s something off about the chemistry there. I mean, Rutger Hauer is awesome, we all know that, but I couldn’t buy her having an instant animal attraction the moment she saw him across the room. You could argue she wants to hump him so bad because she’s attracted to the danger of a guy who the only thing she knows about him is that he savagely stabbed his pregnant wife in the belly. But then why is she trying to prove that he didn’t do that? Plus, he’s always wearing a suit and stuff, seems more like a college professor than some rugged beast whose manly musk reignites her cavewoman instincts.

And then there’s the description of the life Jordan and his wife had before she was murdered: “a perfect picture of American white trash marital bliss.” There’s nothing about Hauer or Dana Eskelson, who plays his wife in the super-8 footage, or their home or anything, that seems at all “white trash.” I picture Tarantino in his late 20s rewriting these things, trying to slip a bit of himself into some movie that’s gonna end up buried on late night cable. And maybe he gets into it and thinks he’s turning it into something good, and then he sees this and thinks “Shit, that wasn’t what I meant.”

There are definitely some parts that we can safely assume he added. Laura cherishes an old David Goodis novel that belonged to her dad. When she first meets Jordan he asks her about reading and she says “I like the Travis McGee novels.” He recommends The Burglar by David Goodis (she doesn’t acknowledge her familiarity with Goodis, maybe to show us that she’s guarded.)

There aren’t any of the TV and movie references that were such a trademark of his early dialogue writing, unless you count the line “Way I understand it [the super-8 snuff film] makes NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET look like CHARLOTTE’S WEB.” But those are very basic movie titles, anybody coulda come up with that.

That one is said by Tom Wright (Charles from MARKED FOR DEATH), who also gets to use a favorite Tarantino term:

The super-8 movie shows the wife smoking and drinking, wearing huge (for the time) sunglasses, eating a burger. I bet he had like 3 paragraphs describing the burger. In retrospect this might’ve been his first failed attempt to put an Alabama or a Mallory type on film. Also in the movie the person behind the camera sneaks up on her when she’s in bed and grabs her foot. This is another part Tarantino might’ve put into more detail in the script than what ended up on screen, in my opinion.

The cinematographer is Robert Yeoman, who does all of the Wes Anderson movies now. Screenwriter Frank Norwood wrote DRIVEN TO KILL, but not the Seagal one. Director Jan Eliasberg has mostly done TV before and after this, ranging from the Dirty Dancing TV series to Criminal Minds and NCIS: Los Angeles type of stuff. Yeah, that sounds about right. I cannot in good conscience recommend this mediocre thriller, but you know me, I found it interesting for educational purposes only.

This entry was posted on Thursday, August 23rd, 2012 at 3:40 pm and is filed under Reviews, Thriller. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

26 Responses to “Past Midnight”

  1. Wonder what the folks in Snohomish thought of the portrayal of the town and it’s law enforcement.

    I think I saw this one because of my mom, the queen of obscure crap put on VHS in the 1990s. She always rented things based on the genre and the video cover, which is the only reason I ever saw Heathers before my high school years. (She fell asleep after they accidentally killed the first Heather, and when she saw the rest of it years later, she wondered what she was thinking lettin me stay up to watch it with her and why it had become one of my favorites.)

    Thanks, Mom!

  2. Hi my name is Don Page. I never have seen this movie. I should check it out sometime.

  3. I friend of mine had it on VHS, and – yes – he bought it because of QT’s contribution. I seem to recall an explicit sec scene. Apart from that, nothing. I should probably see it again, as I usually enjoy the work of all three leads.

    I don’t mean to be a douchebag nitpicker, but there is something strange about the opening paragraph. You ask why you knew about the film, then go on to say you figure you should have known of it before…

  4. I imagine Rutger Hauer and Michael Keaton existing in some purgatory of offbeat, oddly charismatic, top-notch actors who are just sitting in purgatory, taking turns using the hall pass to take on the occasional supporting role. Are they just bored with acting, or are filmatists just sleeping on these guys?

  5. At least Hauer had some time to shine in Hobo With A Shotgun. Someone should wake the fuck up and give Keaton a meaty lead role. Loved him in Jackie Brown and Out of Sight.

    Get Elmore Leonard to write that character a good script.

  6. I was so hoping for a big Rutger Hauer comeback in 2005, when he was in SIN CITY, BATMAN BEGINS and had a guest role in SMALLVILLE (which wasn’t really a high profile TV show, but at least one that people watched). Too bad that this didn’t work out.
    And from what I’ve heard, it’s not that Michael Keaton doesn’t get any offers these days, it’s just that he is semi-retired and only picks parts that he is interested in. (Note that he managed to stay out of SyFy original movies or shit like that, so I guess it’s true.)

  7. I’d put James Spader and William Peterson in that category, too. They both have done notable work in the last decade (Spader with SECRETARY and BOSTON LEGAL, and Peterson with CSI obviously), but it’s sad that their movie careers didn’t hold up with the talent.

  8. But to be honest, becoming an award winning or successful TV star is these days almost the same as being a successful movie star.
    (That reminds me that if I would be a TV producer, I would have cast Rutger in a good TV show years ago.)

  9. Makes me wonder if Michael Keaton ever regretted to say “no” to the role of Jack in LOST.

  10. Very true. And also I think in Spader and Peterson’s cases, they’re more like Keaton about not doing everything that’s thrown at them. William rejected a role in PLATOON (also turned down GOODFELLAS) and wound up doing a baseball movie for HBO around the same time, and said he had no regrets about it.

  11. Skani, in Michael Keaton’s case, he got so much money from the Batman movies that nowdays he considers acting more like a hobby then a job and he only does it for fun. He’s so filhy rich, he doesn’t need to work anymore or since his days playing Batman.

  12. One thing in his favor for that was he already had a family by the time he’d accepted the role. A younger single guy would have been more likely to squander that Bat-cash on whores and dope.

  13. yeah, I mean it’s Keaton’s life. He can spend the next 40 years whittling if he wants to. It’s a shame, though. He’s just so much fun to watch in just about anything he does. Jackie Brown was top notch stuff, right there. One of my favorites. His role in the Other Guys was also a highlight. Ain’t too proud to beg for some more Michael Keaton.

  14. Apologies for my poor editing. I revisit these posts to remember where I left off and it’s only then that I realize I said purgatory twice. Where I left off. Purgatory.

  15. I really dug Rutger Hauer in Batman Begins. You’d have thought they could have found some cheesy excuse for keeping him around in the sequels. It’s all very complicated. But the important thing is that Hauer’s future is…well, nebulous, I guess.

  16. ANoniMouse – my mom used to rent a lot of sometimes bad movies as well back in the video store days

    and I too agree that it’s a shame you don’t see Michael Keaton more often

  17. Yeah, of course, Matthew Fox is so etched in my mind as Jack that I couldn’t even envision Michael Keaton playing that character. But I assume it would have been pretty cool.

    Wait about 20 seconds for Keaton. This one always made me laugh.


  18. It’s never poor judgement to be attracted to Rutger Hauer. Never.

  19. I’m originally from a very small town in Ohio. One day I was talking to a friend about Pet Sematary Two. She swore to me that when she came out of the local (one-screen) theatre to buy some popcorn, what do you know, but “Gus” is out there, too, getting some Milk Duds or whatnot. This seemed implausible to me, until I learned that large swaths of Shawshank Redemption were shot at the old Mansfield, OH Reformatory, not too far from our theater.

    Gus in person. Better than 3D.

  20. Interesting review Vern. I have never heard of this one. I like that you are digging deep and examining these obscure films that QT might have worked on or influenced. Considering that you are working on a CITY ON FIRE review it makes me think that next you will move from QT’s earliest projects to what are some of his greatest influences. It all makes for an interesting study of QT’s inception and growth as a film maker.

  21. Ah Rutger Hauer. I’ve always loved the idea of watching his films more than watching his films.

    Off the top of my head, my favourite Rutger films are:

    BladeRunner (of course)
    Blind Fury

    What other decent ones has he done in you guys and gals opinions?

    I never really clicked to The Hitcher.

    Split Second was a murky muddle.

    Surviving the Game was a missed opportunity.

    Oh God, of course, FLESH & BLOOD is fucking brilliant!

    I must finally hunt down his earlier films too.

  22. I agree that Hauer’s filmography is a mixed bag, but he’s often the most interesting thing in whatever movie he stars in.

  23. Wanted: Dead or Alive is one of my favorite Hauer films. Grenade mouth!

  24. The Original... Paul

    August 26th, 2012 at 5:34 am

    I think I saw this one years and years ago on TV, but I don’t remember too much about it, even who the killer was. The cast and synopsis sound interesting enough that I might check it out and see if I like it more than Vern did.

    Anybody ever seen “Bone Daddy”? It’s a (relatively) recent murder mystery DTV film starring Hauer as a city coroner (I think), investigating the case of a retired serial killer who comes out of retirement when Hauer publishes a book about him. It’s not exactly good but it has its moments. Some are unintentionally hilarious but there’s a bit of genuine creepiness in there as well. It’s not something I’d exactly recommend but it’s an entertaining enough curiosity if you’re into that kind of thing.

  25. Back to Michael Keaton, he’s been cast as the villain in the ROBOCOP remake, replacing Hugh Laurie.

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