Stormy Monday (1988) Blu Ray & DVD (Arrow)
The Americans are coming
Melanie Griffith plays Kate, an American living in Newcastle-upon-Tyne who carries out various odd jobs for her employer Cosmo (Tommy Lee Jones), a shady businessman who also hails from across the pond. The latter is in town to promote a major event called “America Week”, an initiative aimed at bringing U.S. investment into the down-at-heel city.
Sean Bean plays Brendan, a young drifter who worms his way into a job working for club owner Finney (Sting) and is sent to prove his loyalty by picking up a Polish jazz band from the airport. That evening after he gets back, he pays a visit to the restaurant where Kate is working. The pair soon hit it off, and Brendan asks her out for a drink via a stealthily slipped note. However, he also overhears two men talking about hurting Finney, and suddenly feels the urge to warn him.
The next morning Finney explains that Cosmo is pressuring him to sell his club so that the area can be cleared for redevelopment - something he is staunchly against. Moreover, Brendan’s budding romance with Kate is putting the pair in terrible danger due to their respective employers’ conflicting interests.
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Style over substance
Stormy Monday was the big-screen debut of acclaimed British director Mike Figgis. Thanks in part to the contribution of cinematographer Roger Deakins (now one of the most highly-regarded of his profession due to his work with the Coen Brothers and Denis Villeneuve) he manages to turn Newcastle into an atmospherically seductive space. Hulking artifacts from Britain’s Industrial Revolution loom hazily in the background against endlessly varying hues of sky, while colourful local festivities and nightlife bedecked in Blade Runner-style neon are framed artistically in the foreground.
It’s really a case of style over substance, which would be fine if the film was enjoyable in its own insubstantial way à la some of Luc Besson’s efforts. The trouble is that this one just crawls its way through Figgis’s own awful script. Sometimes it’s very flat and talky (with crucial details explained two or three times) and sometimes it just doesn’t make sense (with crucial details poorly explained, if at all).
A Monday morning of a movie
The film has no idea what it wants to be and doesn’t work as anything. While the plot suggests a “Newcastle Noir” thriller in the tradition of Payroll (1961) or Get Carter (1971), the slow pacing ensures that it’s about as tense as a drugged alley cat in the Mediterranean midday sun. There’s one subliminally disturbing scene of violence in the middle, but little excitement elsewhere.
There’s a lot of emphasis on the Bean-Griffith romance, but it’s hard to invest in since both characters’ backgrounds are so murky, and there’s no real spark between them. Bean, who was at an early stage of his career, seems intimidated to be on screen with the far more famous Griffith (who is fine in her usual earthy and sensual manner). There is one restrained, well-handled erotic scene later on - but it’s coming off the back of an otherwise boring relationship.
At other times it looks like it wants to be a satire of American culture’s overbearing hand in the UK, in which case it’s incredibly heavy-handed, right down to a performance by Tommy Lee Jones at his most caricaturish. There’s also a lot of jazz music, and some glimpses of Newcastle’s Polish scene eating up considerable screen time. It’s also something of a vehicle for pop singer Sting, who made quite an impression with his supporting turns in the excellent Quadrophenia (1979) and the otherwise dire Dune (1984). However, in this larger role, his presence feels stretched thin.
Stormy Monday is a drudgery comparable to coming into work with the Monday morning blues, and it’s a mystifying choice of film for Arrow to exhume considering their track record of dusting off justifiable cult favourites.
Runtime: 93 mins
Dir: Mike Figgis
Script: Mike Figgis
Starring: Melanie Griffith, Tommy Lee Jones, Sting, Sean Bean, James Cosmo, Mark Long, Alison Steadman
Blu Ray Audio-Visual
For the most part, Roger Deakins’ cinematography looks fabulous, excepting perhaps the rather over-saturated red hues. The audio, however, is too watery, overdoing the reverb and turning the dialogue too low in the mix.
Audio Commentary with Damon Wise and Mike Figgis
In contrast to the film itself, the commentary is excellent. Figgis mentions how his own background in avant garde theatre and jazz music informed the film’s style, with half of the cast being real-life practitioners of these art forms. He reels off plenty of classic anecdotes, such as the fact that one of the clubs constructed as part of the film set was visited by some real-life clubbers one evening. Tommy Lee Jones was tough to work with, and insisted on his own supply of Havana cigars for his character to smoke. When his supply ran out, the crew secretly recycled some he had discarded on the street during one particular scene! It’s also eye-opening to learn that the car stunt near the end of the film was performed by Melanie Griffith herself, with an unprepared Sean Bean (who was woken up in the middle of the night for the shot) in the passenger seat.
Just the Same? Stormy Monday 30 Years On…
Critic Neil Young discusses the cinematic history of Newcastle, the historical context in which Stormy Monday was set, Mike Figgis’s background, the film’s cast and a “then and now” look at some locations. We hear that Tim Roth was originally cast as Brendan, but this was changed to Sean Bean as Griffith’s representatives felt that the former wasn’t physically attractive enough. We also find out that the restaurant Weegee’s featured in the film is now a BrewDog bar. As with the commentary, it’s enjoyable and interesting even if you don’t feel the same way about the film.
The usual Arrow booklet features an essay entitled “Mike Figgis: Renaissance Man” by Mark Cunliffe. He discusses Stormy Monday’s themes, as well as taking a look at the subsequent arc of Figgis’s career.
Personally I couldn’t stand the film and find it hard to recommend unless you’re a completist. However, it has found its admirers over the years, Roger Ebert amongst them. If you are a fan then the extras are good enough to warrant a purchase, even considering the uncharacteristically awful audio quality from Arrow.