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Stormy Monday (1988)

Courtesy of Majestic Films

Main image of Stormy Monday (1988)
35mm, colour, 93 mins
DirectorMike Figgs
Production CompanyMoving Picture Company
ProducerNigel Stafford-Clark
ScreenplayMike Figgis
PhotographyRoger Deakins
MusicMike Figgis

Cast: Melanie Griffith (Kate); Tommy Lee Jones (Francis Cosmo); Sting (Finney); Sean Bean (Brendan); James Cosmo (Tony); Mark Long (Patrick)

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In Newcastle, a US-backed property swindle is blocked by a belligerent jazz club owner.

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The feature debut of one of the more adventurously-inclined British filmmakers to have emerged in recent years, Stormy Monday is a strongly noir-inflected thriller set entirely in Newcastle during 'American Week', a fictional festival designed to cement ties between the city (then undergoing extensive redevelopment in real life) and wealthy American investors. Those familiar with the real-life T Dan Smith/John Poulson scandal will be unsurprised to discover that this is largely a front for financial skulduggery involving Cosmo (Tommy Lee Jones), an American businessman with lots of money to launder. But his expansionist plans are blocked by jazz club owner Finney (Sting, stressing his native Newcastle accent for once), who seems to have underworld connections of his own.

It wouldn't be film noir without a femme fatale, and Melanie Griffith is on hand to inject at least some sultry mystery into the role of waitress-cum-part time escort girl Kate, whose work for Cosmo is undermined by her falling in love with Sean Bean's itinerant Brendan, a handyman who applies for a menial job with Finney and is quickly promoted once he proves his usefulness at overhearing significant conversations between Cosmo's hired goons about their intentions towards Finney's club.

While the film is efficient enough as a thriller, it's perhaps most striking in retrospect as a mood piece that foreshadows Figgis' more experimental later work such as Liebestraum (US, 1991). Credited as writer/director/composer, Figgis is more expressive through his jazz-inflected score and fetishistic attention to visual detail (especially the effect of rain on glass, neon and concrete) than his characters are through their often overly perfunctory dialogue, while a subplot involving a visiting Polish jazz combo leads to a memorably avant-garde mangling of the 'Star Spangled Banner', to the evident discomfiture of local and visiting dignitaries.

Thanks to canny casting (between shooting and release, Griffith became a bona fide Oscar-nominated star on the back of the 1988 film Working Girl), the film made enough of an impact in the US to secure Figgis a Hollywood deal for his next film, Internal Affairs (1990). Producer Nigel Stafford-Clark subsequently revived elements of Stormy Monday for the prequel television series Finney (ITV, 1994), based on Sting's character but starring David Morrissey.

Michael Brooke

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Video Clips
1. More flags! (3:51)
2. Spicy chowder (3:51)
3. The tough get going (4:12)
Figgis, Mike (1948-)
Powell, Sandy (1961-)
Sting (1951-)