Cast: Melanie Griffith, Tommy Lee Jones, Sting, Sean Bean, and James Cosmo
Writer and director: Mike Figgis
93 minutes (15) 1988
widescreen ratio 16:9
Arrow DVD Region 2 retail
reviewed by J.C. Hartley
Most reviews of this feature praise the performances at the expense of the story and carp at the pace, the understatement and treat it as if it were a poor relation of Get Carter. Apart from the Newcastle setting, evocatively photographed by Roger Deakins (Jarhead, The Village), and the gangster elements of the plot, there is little in common with the earlier movie except that this is another impressive addition to the stable of British noir.
Brendan (Sean Bean, Silent Hill, Flightplan) takes a job as a cleaner at The Key Club, a Jazz venue on Newcastle’s quayside run by Finney (Sting, Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels), during that town’s American week, and overhears a plan to intimidate the club owner into signing over his property. An American businessman Cosmo (Tommy Lee Jones, The Missing, Men In Black) is in town buying up property with the tacit approval of the local council in order to foster urban regeneration; we later discover the plan is part of a money-laundering scheme while Cosmo faces a Senate inquiry back in
. Finney, piqued
by the original heavy-handed approach from Cosmo’s aides, is refusing to sell
up and the stage seems set for violence, with Brendan, the quiet loner, somehow
coming to the rescue. New York
Having set-up the scenario, Mike Figgis (Leaving Las Vegas), who wrote the screenplay, as well as directing and composing the incidental music, thwarts expectations; Finney is no effete club owner but a tough operator with connections, Brendan is no tough guy just a sensitive artistic soul steeped in American culture. The film is not a condemnation of American cultural imperialism; the local council are out to milk the newcomers, local businesses are showing record profits during American week.
Brendan meets and falls for Kate (Melanie Griffith, Tempo), who works at a local restaurant but is involved with Cosmo as an escort/ honey-trap in his wooing of local council officials. Kate’s attempts to escape Cosmo’s patronage, and Brendan’s involvement with Finney’s equally dangerous game, set the scene for violence and tragedy.
Albert Finney apparently turned down the part of Finney (directorial joke?) as he felt the screenplay was ‘too cutty,’ but the montage effects, which almost languidly bombard the viewer with images from the very out-set, wholly compliment the atmosphere of rising tension; streetlights are reflected in the polished hood of a cruising Jaguar car, a square in the town contains a huge inflatable Coke bottle like something imagined by Claus Oldenburg, The Krakow Jazz Ensemble perform a Hendrix-esque rendition of The Stars And Stripes at a civic reception, violent photographic newsreel images by Weegie, decorate the restaurant of the same name where Kate works, Brendan’s room is filled with images of Gable and books by Hemingway, his wardrobe consists of white shorts, crisp white shirts, chinos and a leather jacket; everything creates a sense not of colonisation but cultural displacement.
This is a tremendous, overlooked, low-key, haunting genre movie by a real English auteur and deserves at the very least a place on the syllabus at film school. There is a fascinating director's commentary as part of the extras.