Afterglow is a disappointing affair, despite having a good cast and storyline rife with potential. Yet, when you watch Julie Christie's luminous Oscar-nominated performance, you wonder if Helen Hunt really deserved that Academy Award. So, thanks to Christie, writer/director Alan Rudolph's sombre romantic drama manages to salvage one or two truly poignant moments.
But not enough of them. There are two problems with Rudolph's screenplay. Firstly, it doesn't really get to grips with either the characters or their situations in a satisfactory way; you don't become as emotionally involved with them as you feel you should.
This is particularly true of the Byrons - Jonny Lee Miller (Trainspotting) and Lara Flynn Boyle (Twin Peaks). Miller's character Jeffrey, for example, is often depicted as being fairly unstable. Yet Rudolph never fully explores the part, and the actor is left trying to breathe life into what is little more than a caricature. The director is much more successful with Christie and Nolte, whose characters feel more like real people. But this has more to do with skilled acting than better writing.
Secondly, Afterglow often looks like a filmed play. There is very little incidental music and only a few outdoor locations, which gives it a theatrical feel that never sits well on the big screen.
Worse still is Rudolph's attempt at using stylised dialogue, leading to characters uttering lines which sound totally contrived and artificial. Most of this occurs in the exchanges between Flynn and Miller, which makes you yearn for more scenes with Christie and Nolte.
Despite these flaws, Afterglow is still a compelling piece of work. The film's slow, burning narrative engages rather than bores, there are some witty lines to enjoy among the more laughable ones, and the conclusion, although too neatly resolved, still manages to bring on an acute attack of lip-trembling.
Best of all, there's the eternally yummy Christie. Whether she's being delightfully seductive or wallowing in pain-drenched memories, she is always mesmerising as the beautiful but forlorn actress whose marriage is on seriously rocky ground.
The ever-reliable Nolte is excellent too, turning in yet another restrained but effective performance as the seed-sowing Mr Fix-It. In a movie that's considerably more annoying than it is enjoyable, these two leading lights are the best thing to be found.
A deliberately slow drama, Afterglow will irritate most people with its unintentionally humorous dialogue and sketchily drawn characterisations. Only Christie's performance keeps this film hanging on by its fingernails over the abyss of Stylised Arse.