Tag Archives: Sean Bean

Stormy Monday (1988, Mike Figgis)

Stormy Monday is beauty in despondence. The film is set over a few days in Newcastle, where the local businesses have given up hope on any economic recovery of their own and instead are letting shady American businessman Tommy Lee Jones spearhead an “American week.” You get a discount for being American, there are U.S. flags everywhere, the radio is playing American music. There’s even a scene where Jones addresses politicians and businesspeople and tells them there’s no hope but for them to embrace the American way of… not life, exactly, but mode of corruption. Jones wants to build a development.

The only thing standing in his way is Sting, who owns a little jazz club. Turns out Sting isn’t what he appears (and Jones is less than he appears). They’re playing a chess game against one another, though neither are fully aware of it. Not at the start at least.

But Sting versus Jones for the economic and development future of Newcastle-upon-Tyne isn’t the main plot of Stormy Monday. The main plot is Sean Bean and Melanie Griffith falling for each other. Bean’s new to town and finds a job at Sting’s night club. Griffith is a waitress, but also under contract as Jones’s femme fatale. She convinces politicians for him. When the film starts, it’s been a while since they’ve seen each other and Griffith’s kind of done with it.

Figgis–who, in addition to writing and directing, did the music–has a very gentle hand when it comes to exposition. Bean’s backstory is a note in a read fast or it’s lost shot in the beginning montage. There’s some dialogue, some setup, but for at least ten minutes of Stormy Monday, it’s just Figgis arranging some of the chess pieces with protracted narrative distance, set to an expository radio program. Bean and Griffith are both listening to it on headphones, walking around town, cut off from the world, but–unknowingly–connected to one another.

There’s another plot line involving a Polish jazz ensemble who’s going to be playing at Sting’s club. One of Bean’s first job tasks is to get them from the airport. Coincidence will have them show up in Jones’s story line (they’re all at the same hotel), but eventually Andrzej Borkowski–as the band’s manager–and Dorota Zieciowska, as a Polish woman living in Newcastle, become familiars in the supporting cast. They have their own romance narrative running alongside the main plots. It’s one of the film’s truly lovely details, as none of the principals have much illusion about the unpleasantness around them.

Bean and Griffith pursue romance knowing that unpleasantness, actively working against it, dreaming against it, juxtaposed against Borkowski and Zieciowska’s hopeful one. Not naive though. One of Stormy Monday’s other themes is how ignorance isn’t just bliss, it’s simultaneously dangerous and necessary.

But Figgis never talks about it, of course, because Figgis never really talks about anything. Griffith and Bean will have these intense moments, deep moments, with short dialogue exchanges and endless mood from Figgis (as writer, director, and composer), cinematographer Roger Deakins, and editor David Martin. Deakins’s contributions to the film are outstanding, but don’t define it in the same way as Figgis and Martin’s cutting of scenes, cutting of sound. Stormy Monday is never rushed; there’s tension, there’s danger, but Figgis never races to get there. Even when he’s got a brisk pace, he’s more interested in keeping the established tone and making the dramatics fit into it.

Everything is precise; the film’s just over ninety minutes and Figgis, not changing the tone (which he sets in those first ten or fifteen minutes), employs numerous subtle devices for exposition and plot development. For example, how Figgis handles Sting’s character development (Stormy Monday is Sting’s story, we just don’t follow it). Bean’s fortunes change once he overhears a couple of Jones’s hired goons–James Cosmo and Mark Long, both terrifying–talking about confronting Sting. So Bean’s at Sting’s house for breakfast, telling him about it (information the audience already has; audience actually has more information it turns out), and Figgis does the whole thing from Prunella Gee’s perspective. She’s Sting’s wife. It’s her one scene. But it’s more character development than Sting gets almost anywhere else.

Figgis sets up the audience’s narrative distance, which is different than Bean’s, different than Griffith’s. Even though Bean and Griffith are the leads, co-protagonists. Well, after the first act, Griffith mostly takes over. I’m also using first act rather loosely. Figgis is as exuberant as he can be–stylistically–about breaking plotting expectations. Not plot expectations so much, Stormy Monday has some predictable twists (or maybe more not it just doesn’t have twists as much as reasonable developments), but how the plots run concurrent and where they intersect.

The acting is all good. No one’s particularly spectacular. Figgis doesn’t really ask a lot from his cast in terms of performance; they serve the film, which Figgis is going to precisely cut, precisely score. Lots of silent, thoughtful moments for Bean and Griffith, who both essay them beautifully. For their characters, the saying isn’t as important as the hearing, the sitting with what’s been said. It even comes up as a minor plot point later.

If Figgis’s ambitions for the narrative were stronger, Stormy Monday might be singular. Instead, it’s a phenomenal style exercise (with a solid script). If it were more narratively ambitious however, Jones and Sting would probably be liabilities. Sting gets a lot of help from Figgis’s direction, while Jones always seems like he’s just about to be exasperated with the thinness of the part. Figgis knows how to pivot to a better angle on the character, always implying more depth.

Stormy Monday is a masterfully, exquisitely, intelligently made film. It just doesn’t want to be anything more. Figgis fills it with content–good content–but no potentiality.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Mike Figgis; director of photography, Roger Deakins; edited by David Martin; music by Figgis; production designer, Andrew McAlpine; produced by Nigel Stafford-Clark; released by Atlantic Releasing.

Starring Melanie Griffith (Kate), Sean Bean (Brendan), Sting (Finney), Tommy Lee Jones (Cosmo), Andrzej Borkowski (Andrej), Scott Hoxby (Bob), Dorota Zieciowska (Christine), Mark Long (Patrick), Prunella Gee (Mrs. Finney), and James Cosmo (Tony).


THIS POST IS PART OF THE 5TH ANNUAL RULE, BRITANNIA FILM BLOGATHON HOSTED BY TERENCE TOWLES CANOTE OF A SHROUD OF THOUGHTS.


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Patriot Games (1992, Phillip Noyce)

Patriot Games has a mess of a plot. After introducing Harrison Ford as the lead, it veers into this period where not only does Sean Bean–as Ford's nemesis–get more screen time, but also everyone in Bean's IRA off-shoot plot. It might work if fellow group members Patrick Bergin and Polly Walker had better written roles and gave better performances. Bean too is problematic, but he barely has any lines; he just sits around looking sullen, putting him ahead of Bergin and Walker.

Somewhat simultaneously, the script repeatedly puts Ford's wife (Anne Archer) and daughter (Thora Birch) in harm's way. Screenwriters W. Peter Iliff and Donald Stewart don't seem to understand they can only cry wolf so often, especially after laying on the fun family stuff. And Ford, Archer and Birch are a fun movie family, no doubt. The movie could probably even get away with more of it.

The film really gets started in the second hour, with Ford trying to catch Bean after spending forty minutes not wanting to return to the CIA to do that very thing. The procedural scenes are lacking because there's no resolve behind them, they feel forced. The action sequences, however, are all outstanding because director Noyce does a phenomenal job directing this film. Great editing from William Hoy and Neil Travis too.

There are some good supporting performances–Samuel L. Jackson, J.E. Freeman, Richard Harris–and Ford is outstanding. But some good acting and fine directing can't make up for the plotting; the plotting's atrocious.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Phillip Noyce; screenplay by W. Peter Iliff and Donald Stewart, based on the novel by Tom Clancy; director of photography, Donald McAlpine; edited by William Hoy and Neil Travis; music by James Horner; production designer, Joseph C. Nemec III; produced by Mace Neufeld and Robert Rehme; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Harrison Ford (Jack Ryan), Anne Archer (Cathy Ryan), Patrick Bergin (Kevin O’Donnell), Sean Bean (Sean Miller), Thora Birch (Sally Ryan), James Fox (Lord Holmes), Samuel L. Jackson (Robby), Polly Walker (Annette), J.E. Freeman (Marty Cantor), James Earl Jones (Admiral Greer) and Richard Harris (Paddy O’Neil).


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GoldenEye (1995, Martin Campbell)

I love Goldeneye’s plotting. It’s clear they plotted the film to be most enjoyed the first time through, but in terms of reveals and action sequences. The opening sequence doesn’t work particularly well in the end, though, a problem I had the last time I watched the film as well. It’s simply not interesting on video—we know James Bond is going to make it and without the spectacle, it doesn’t work.

Goldeneye excels on two levels. Campbell’s direction is magnificent; he’s able to alternate between the grand, third person Panavision action and setup direction, but also some incredibly personal moments. Combined with his ability, Eric Serra’s score just makes Goldeneye an audio-visual delight. Campbell’s an excellent Panavision action director and generally traditional in those scenes. But Serra’s music is very revisionist. It changes the film’s feel, without affecting the tone.

The other level is Pierce Brosnan and Izabella Scorupco. While Brosnan’s great as Bond, it’s not like he’s achieving much. There’s only so much he can do. But Scorupco is able to humanize him. She’s not a damsel in distress, instead she’s an active participant (one wonders if a better film might not have featured her as the lead and a Bond-like character as her sidekick). She’s fantastic.

The supporting cast has highs and lows. Famke Janssen, Robbie Coltrane and Gottfried John are all good, John especially. Sean Bean and Alan Cumming are weak. Judi Dench and Joe Don Baker are in between.

It’s a solid film.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Martin Campbell; screenplay by Jeffrey Caine and Bruce Feirstein, based on a story by Michael France and characters created by Ian Fleming; director of photography, Phil Meheux; edited by Terry Rawlings; music by Eric Serra; production designer, Peter Lamont; produced by Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson; released by United Artists.

Starring Pierce Brosnan (James Bond), Sean Bean (Alec Trevelyan), Izabella Scorupco (Natalya Simonova), Famke Janssen (Xenia Onatopp), Joe Don Baker (Jack Wade), Judi Dench (M), Robbie Coltrane (Valentin Dmitrovich Zukovsky), Gottfried John (General Arkady Grigorovich Ourumov), Alan Cumming (Boris Grishenko), Tchéky Karyo (Defense Minister Dmitri Mishkin), Desmond Llewelyn (Q), Samantha Bond (Miss Moneypenny), Michael Kitchen (Bill Tanner) and Serena Gordon (Caroline).


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Red Riding: In the Year of Our Lord 1974 (2009, Julian Jarrod)

I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting from 1974 but I didn’t get it. I think I thought it was a serial killer investigation, based on a real case. Instead, it’s this melodramatic crusading reporter thing, with the serial killings taking a back seat to that emphasis. Except then the crusading reporter thing takes a back seat to the romance between the reporter and one of the serial killer’s victim’s mother’s. Is that enough possessive apostrophes? I’m not sure about the last one.

It’s a good looking film–Jarrod’s directorial style appears to be directly informed by The Ice Storm, which is a fine thing to ape, and Rob Hardy’s cinematography is phenomenal. Adrian Johnston’s score really makes a lot of scenes work. Until the third act, when the film drowns in its own self-importance. Even Johnston’s score is weak at that point and Jarrod ends the film on one of the silliest final shots ever. Laughable, really.

Lead Andrew Garfield’s better than I would have expected, seeing as how his performance in Lions for Lambs is one of the worst performances in cinema. It doesn’t hurt the supporting cast could carry him, but they don’t really need to. I never would have guessed he wasn’t British.

Rebecca Hall’s grieving, broken mother is a singular performance. Eddie Marsan gives a great performance (no surprise) as a slightly comedic heavy.

And Sean Bean looks right for the era.

It’s a silly melodrama, but convincingly pretends it isn’t for a while.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Julian Jarrold; screenplay by Tony Grisoni, based on a novel by David Peace; director of photography, Rob Hardy; edited by Andrew Hulme; music by Adrian Johnston; production designer, Cristina Casali; produced by Wendy Brazington, Andrew Eaton and Anita Overland; released by Channel 4.

Starring Andrew Garfield (Eddie Dunford), Sean Bean (John Dawson), Warren Clarke (Bill Molloy), Rebecca Hall (Paula Garland), Eddie Marsan (Jack Whitehead), David Morrissey (Maurice Jobson) and Peter Mullan (Martin Laws).


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