Julie Christie’s Comeback

Julie Christie proves her mettle as a film star with a stately performance in Alan Rudolph’s uneven Afterglow. It’s a late-career success for an actress that once lit up screens in Doctor Zhivago and other classic Hollywood movies.

Rudolph’s contrived premise sees two tragic marriages collide in spectacular fashion with a grasping sense of romance. Nick Nolte, Lara Flynn Boyle, and Jonny Lee Miller star alongside Christie’s demure screen siren. Nolte is somewhat miscast as an aging ladies’ man, though his working-class appeal fits the role. Early in their careers, a young Lara Flynn Boyle and Jonny Lee Miller play off the older stars with mixed success.

Afterglow often plays out like a Woody Allen movie as directed by Robert Altman

Nolte plays Lucky Mann, a charming handyman that likes servicing his female clients in the bedroom when not fixing their homes. He’s in a mostly loveless marriage with Phyllis (Julie Christie), who once upon a time was a minor movie star. By this point in their lives, the marriage is more of an arrangement than a loving relationship.

Desperate for a baby, lonely housewife Marianne (Lara Flynn Boyle) hires Lucky to remodel a nursery. Marianne’s husband often refuses sex with her, more concerned with his business career than her needs. He doesn’t want children at the moment. Sparks fly between Lucky and Marianne, throwing their spouses into confusion and upsetting the delicate balance of their troubled marriages.

Produced by the esteemed Robert Altman, director Alan Rudolph’s movies sometimes come off as a poor man’s version of Altman’s masterful filmmaking. Afterglow often plays out like a Woody Allen movie as directed by Robert Altman. Unfortunately, Rudolph isn’t as talented as either legendary director. The star-crossed romance spends its time reflecting on the complexities and regrets of marriage. The mixed message Afterglow sends loses its charm by the end.

The wry romance has its moments, especially when Nolte or Christie light up the screen with their charm. Jonny Lee Miller is out of his depth as the young executive wooing the much older Phyllis. Julie Christie is the main reason to catch Afterglow. Her intimate performance is handled with skill and care, a captivating portrayal with resonance.

Video

MVD puts both Afterglow and Ray Meets Helen (the double-feature’s second movie) on a single BD-50, which isn’t ideal. Afterglow is from the late 1990s and didn’t even hit DVD until 2003, when Sony issued the disc. The 1.78:1 presentation is serviceable at best with questionable colors. Likely from a dated film transfer, this Blu-ray offers a modest tick up in detail and texture. This is the first time Afterglow has hit BD across the globe.

Afterglow’s cinematography is maddeningly inconsistent with patches of soft focus for some scenes. Any scene involving Nick Nolte comes off reasonably sharp with decent clarity. The other cast members don’t receive the same due for whatever reason. Colors are flat and dull. The contrast is washed out and uneven. Interiors are well-lit, though lacking superior depth and dimension. Go elsewhere for impressive picture quality with razor-sharp definition.

The AVC encode from MVD is adequate. Afterglow’s film elements are in decent condition with no major wear visible, though telecine wobble and other indicators lead me to believe this is an old HD transfer.

Audio

Afterglow was first released in 1997 when adult dramas typically didn’t receive surround mixes. The original 2.0 PCM audio is in stereo with crisp dialogue and a vibrant, low-key jazz score from composer Mark Isham. The low-end is especially thick for a dialogue-driven film. Dynamics are fine with a solid soundstage holding everything together, though volume is occasionally soft.

Optional English SDH subtitles play in a yellow font.

Extras

Part of MVD’s Marquee Collection, Afterglow is paired with another Alan Rudolph movie, Ray Meets Helen. Both movies arrive on a single disc. No special features beyond these trailers are included. My research indicates the original DVD release from Sony offered no particular special features.

The Blu-ray is coded for all regions.

Afterglow Trailer (01:49 in SD)

Ray Meets Helen Trailer (01:39 in SD)

Crazy Six Trailer (02:06 in SD)

Mikey Trailer (02:17 in HD)

Murderous Trance Trailer (02:17 in HD) – Plays before the main menu.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

Afterglow
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Julie Christie and Nick Nolte play off each other in this amusing but uneven romance about poor marriages by Alan Rudolph.

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