Posted July 15, 2017 by Chris Hick in Film Reviews

Stormy Monday (1988) DVD Review

Mike Figgis is an eclectic director who has made a varied range of films. Among his most accomplished have been the alcoholic-hooker relationship in Leaving Las Vegas (1995), the standard police corruption thriller Internal Affairs (1990) and the public school drama, The Browning Version (1994). He has made standard thrillers (Cold Creek Manor, 2003), arthouse films (Hotel, 2001, Timecode, 2000 and The Loss of Sexual Innocence, 1999), as well as an adaptation of August Strindberg’s play Miss Julie (1999) and has often used regular actors Julian Sands and his long time partner Saffron Burrows.

But here, released on Arrow Video is Figgis’s first feature, Stormy Monday (1988), a neo-noir thriller that seems to pay homage to Get Carter (1971) with its Newcastle settings, as well as American film noir. More on this later. The film opens with Brendan (Sean Bean) arriving in Newcastle looking for work; the film tells us that he is Irish, but he seems to be speaking his native strong South Yorkshire accent. He arrives at the Key Club near Newcastle’s Quayside and asks about a job as a toilet attendant from club owner Finney (Sting), a wannabe jazz musician (Figgis had been a toilet attendant in his youth at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in Soho, London). Indeed, jazz is used prominently throughout the film. On his first night he goes to a restaurant where he charms Kate (Melanie Griffith), an American waitress working there. In the restaurant she’s abused by a couple of vulgar men. Brendan asks her for a date after she finishes and she accepts. He also overhears that these two men were talking about killing Finney leading Brendan to warn him. Finney is ready for them and breaks their arms and steals their car instead. They had been hired by a ruthless Texas businessman called Cosmo (Tommy Lee Jones) to put pressure on him to sell the club. Cosmo has come over from the US to the North East of England to carry out a scheme to buy up property and re-develop the entire city centre and is not afraid to use blackmail or corruption to do it (here Figgis is relating to a Mayor of Newcastle in the 1960s who was eventually jailed for corruption but had plans to transform and knock about the city). Kate also has a secret connected with Cosmo and her relationship with Brendan puts their lives in danger.

The city of Newcastle, like in Get Carter is central to the film. In an extra on the disc, film critic Neil Young is from nearby Sunderland and talks about how the city is featured in Stormy Monday. He rightly says that in the film it is more like the Newcastle of today than in the 1980s when the city was somewhat more depressed. We can see boarded up restaurants, cafe and shop windows but a visually appealing neon transformation of the city at night. The paintings of Edward Hopper come to mind with these night scenes, both in composition and lighting. Young suggests that there is a dream element to the film to the point that it is ambiguous as to whether the story is really happening or is a dream wish fulfillment. Early on Brendan talks about wanting to go back to the USA and then meets and falls in love with an American girl and begins to live the life of a hard boiled film noir story. Other clues are present as we see both Brendan and Kate before they met sleeping in their beds.

Viewing today it has perhaps grown in interest, largely because of its sense of place and how it compares to the Newcastle of today. Perhaps even more than in Get Carter the sense of place is more relevant as both Figgis and Sting are from the city and would have brought their own relationship to the city into the film. Interestingly Sting has quite a strong geordie accent in the film, something that he seemed to have lost years ago. It has been suggested, not inaccurately that this was Sting’s best performance to date. Interesting too, especially in hindsight is the cast. Both Melanie Griffith and Tommy Lee Jones were already rising stars with great expectations. Indeed Griffith would go on to make Working Girl (also 1988) straight after Stormy Monday, though her career never truly met its potential after Working Girl, whereas Jones has gone in to become one of the great character actors. Bean too went on to enjoy a good career.

Stormy Monday (the title taken from T-Bone Walker’s song ‘Call it Stormy Monday’) started out as a small movie, even was proposed to be made for TV but when the American cast came on board and even some quality people behind the scenes the film’s budget grew and would help push Figgis to Hollywood where he would stay with the odd sabatical back in the UK. The film looks good in high definition Blu-ray (1080p), bringing out the neon of the nocturnal scenes well, especially when compared to the accompanying trailer on the disc.

Chris Hick

Chris Hick