Stormy Monday (93 minutes) 1988/Rated R – starring Melanie Griffith, Tommy Lee Jones, Sting, Sean Bean, Alison Steadman, Derek Hoxby, Mark Long, James Cosmo. Written & Directed by Mike Figgis. Released through Paramount Home Video.
As he has done with “Leaving Las Vegas,” “One Night Stand,” “Time Code,” and even “Internal Affairs,” director Mike Figgis likes to follow characters around, watch them breathe, eat, sleep, and sometimes carry a little plot. And while not much really happens in “Stormy Monday,” an early effort by Figgis, the pictures, compositions, and atmosphere are sure pleasant to look at.
Chalk it up to ace photographer Roger Deakins, who makes the rain-slicked streets and cozy, jazzy nightspots of industrialized Newcastle, England look crisp and overwhelmingly artful. Cast in neon blues, reds and golden schemes, the film concentrates on four main characters whose lives figuratively, and sometimes literally, bump into each other over an eventful, celebratory “America” week in the center of town. The American theme has been concocted by Texas businessman Francis Cosmo (Tommy Lee Jones) who hopes to drive the last public relations nail into the city’s councilmen before he snares a lucrative redevelopment deal worth millions on Newcastle’s crumbling real estate. His only hold-out is a slick, well-connected owner, Finney, of a smoky jazz bar, the Key Club, played to scruffy perfection by ex-Police man Sting. Melanie Griffith and Sean Bean (Pierce Brosnan’s nemesis in “Goldeneye”) round out the quartet as a prostitute hired by Cosmo to coax reluctant board members and her newly-arrived drifter/beau working at Finney’s establishment.
The pacing of the movie is languid to say the least. Time is spent with the camera trained on atmosphere enhancers like billowing smokestacks, soccer practices, jazz performers, and parade marchers. But, editor David Martin takes these elements and mixes them into a moody narrative, flowing like a comfortable stream across the screen. Figgis layers on a jazz and blues score that adds to the melancholy pall lying just beneath the deeply-saturated hues in each scene.
The film feels a bit dated now with its ‘80s fashion sense. Melanie Griffith throws another mousy, oxygen-deprived performance onto her theatrical bonfire with her portrayal of Kate, the plain Minnesotan way over her head in dreary England. Speaking of her head, Griffith’s hairstyle, all teased and flaming red, made me keep thinking Pat Benatar was about to burst onto the scene ready to belt out “Hell Is For Children.” Not that poor Sean Bean’s heavily-moussed ‘do escapes rock comparisons (he looked scarily like Swede-man Jonas “Joker” Berggren from Ace of Base). He does, however, fare better in his role as a reserved, withdrawn boyfriend-to-the-rescue, yet his and Melanie’s chemistry never really ignites.
As for the two main adversaries, Sting wins the acting prize hands down. Tommy Lee Jones practically screams, “I’m a bad guy,” the way he tries to act mean, rolling his eyes and exaggerating his disappointment in his minions. His no-nonsense, verbal “every farmhouse, henhouse, outhouse” line delivery he’s famous for spewing in films like “The Fugitive” was not quite so accomplished or convincing in this earlier film. Sting gives an understated performance that comes across much more mature and commanding. The film’s most intense scene, in which Sting faces off against a pair of Cosmo’s thugs, showcases how he exudes power by being very restrained, choosing to be cool as a cucumber, as opposed to becoming overly animated.
At a running time of an hour and a half, the film doesn’t wear out its welcome and the story is wrapped up nice and tidy by the last shot. If not for its pretty pictures, “Stormy Monday” is notable in that it captures one of Sting’s best, most natural, roles to date on film.
© 2000 Ned Truslow