Stop me if this sounds familiar. A regular, working-class schlub takes a job working for a guy with connections to gangsters. He meets a girl who works as an escort for a guy with connections to gangsters. They fall in love and hatch a plan to get from under the thumbs of guys with gangster connections.
Mike Figgis debut film, Stormy Monday, owes a lot of debt to the countless noirs that came before it. But like the Godfather of Noir, Raymond Chandler, once said, “it aint the story you tell, but how you tell it.” Figgis tells his tale with a lot of style. Actually I made the unfortunate mistake of watching Body Heat right after Stormy Monday. Unfortunate because Body Heat is the far superior film and I have to review this one. Body Heat stars Kathleen Turner playing a femme fatale who seduces William Hurt into murdering her husband. It basically remakes Double Indemnity in a modern setting with a lot more sex. It was the debut film of Lawrence Kasdan. Before becoming a director, Kasdan wrote scripts for Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Empire Strikes Back, which meant he got training on the sets of two of the greatest films ever made. Whereas Figgis was working in experimental theater and playing keyboards for Bryan Ferry. I shouldn’t really compare one film to another as they ought to stand on their own, but it’s hard not to do, especially when you watch them back to back.
Stormy Monday is really a pretty good film. It calls back to old noirs but is able to stand on its own. The schlub is played by a young Sean Bean, who answers a want ad for a cleaner in a jazz club owned by Sting. Being a modern kind of guy, Sting at first kicks him to the curb as he’s looking for a pretty lady to clean his toilets instead of the guy who will later make a career playing roguishly handsome dudes in Medieval fantasies who die before the credits roll. But when Sean Bean shows he knows his obscure jazz, he’s hired and promptly promoted to the guy who handles the incoming free jazz band coming in from Poland just in time to play for America Week.
Did I mention that film takes place in Newcastle, England? America week is the brain child of corrupt businessman Tommy Lee Jones (I feel like I should actually use character names now, but then again it seems far too late into this review to start) who is using it as an excuse to start buying up land for some shady business. Sting’s jazz club is part of that land and when he doesn’t listen to reason Tommy Lee sends some thugs to make him an offer he can’t refuse. Sting being the frontman of The Police knows a few things about roughing people up and turns the tables on the thugs. Well, actually Sean Bean overheard the thugs bragging about what they were going to do while eating at a restaurant where Melanie Griffith is a waitress (you gotta wonder what got her into the escort business with Tommy Lee Jones if it doesn’t even pay well enough to quit her second job).
Griffith and Sean Bean hatch a plan to get away from the gangsters while Sting and Tommy Lee Jones battle over who is the toughest guy in Newcastle. It all ends fairly anti-climatically in the very British way of proving nothing ever really changes in Britain. But again it’s not the story but how its told. Figgis gives it a nice jazz score and Roger Deakins infuses it with lots of dark blues and black tones making it look like the gorgeously dark neo-noir it so desperately wants to be. There are some nice directorial flourishes and all the actors do a fine job. Melanie Griffith is especially good.
This Arrow Video release comes with a high definition remastering from 2010. As one might expect from a mastering in the early years of Blu-ray the video quality here is good, but far from perfect. The audio is good. Figgis actually wrote the score and it comes in beautifully as does the dialogue. Ambient noise is minimal but when they are out on the streets of the city if fills the back channels well.
Extras include an informative audio commentary from Figgis, hosted by Damon Wise. There is a 33-minute behind-the-scenes feature hosted by Neil Young (the film critic not the rocker), plus the trailer, image gallery, and the usual nice booklet from Arrow with an informative essay.
Stormy Monday is a nicely atmospheric neo-noir. It’s not quite a must-see as is easily realized it you watch it anywhere near Body Heat like I did, but it has its charms. Arrow Video’s release is not quite up to their usual standards with a dated video mastering and minimal extras, but overall, it comes recommended.