Stormy Monday Review

Stormy Monday
Lura Burnette
Tampa Bay Wired

British, 1988, by Mike Figgis
Color, 93 minutes

Like great jazz? Gorgeous cinematography? Interesting casting? You’ll like Stormy Monday. It’s a small, well-done film noir, released in 1988 to little fanfare, and still relatively unheard-of. I think it has so much going for it that it deserves another chance.

Stormy Monday takes place in Newcastle, England in the middle years of the Reagan era. The characters include: a young man (Sean Bean) who gets a job in a jazz club, an American entrepreneur-villain (Tommy Lee Jones), his assistant/mistress (Melanie Griffith), and the smoky-voiced jazz club owner Finney (Sting), who is fighting to save his business.

The plot of Stormy Monday is set during "America Week" in Newcastle, a sort of festival of all things American. Tommy Lee Jones’ character has been involved in bringing this event to fruition, mostly as a front for his illegal business deals. He aims to take over the location of Sting’s jazz club and isn’t particularly subtle about it. Finney (Sting) has his number. Kate (Griffith) is with Jones out of fear. Sean Bean, perhaps better known for his darker roles, like the IRA terrorist in Patriot Games, is perfect as Brendan, who thinks he’s tough but who is actually naïve, and honest in a world where that’s a rarity. He’s hired as an odd-job man at the Key Club. Eventually club-owner Finney (Sting) learns to trust him, and his trust is well placed.

Tommy Lee Jones is unsympathetic yet intriguing as Cosmo, the businessman with his own agenda. Sting is very much a match for him, and gives just the right rough, morning-after edge to Finney, right down to how he sounds. The really striking work in Stormy Monday is by Melanie Griffith as Kate. She’s disillusioned yet able to love, strong yet vulnerable, and it’s one of her very best performances. Kate and Brendan mesh from the start, as they fight their way out of a maze of dangers together. They do so amidst a fine supporting cast, from café employees to Polish jazz musicians. As in another "small" but memorable film, Local Hero, the minor, yet still important, roles are well played.

What lifts this film right out of the ordinary is the sensational cinematography by Roger Deakins. You’ll want to see it more than once, just to enjoy the stream of images: neon on a rainy street, the glow spilling out of a club doorway, daylight falling on a character’s tired face after a sleepless night. Every scene is filled with subtle color, every background holds your interest. It’s a marvelous experience for those who, like me, love a film’s photography as much as the story.

In the case of Stormy Monday, story and images both work, right down to the ending credits, with B.B. King’s sublime version of the title song. See - and hear - for yourself.

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