Director: Ridley Scott
Screenplay: Howard Franklin
Starring: Tom Berenger, Mimi Rodgers, Lorraine Bracco
BBFC Certification: 15
You never know what you are going to get with Ridley Scott. For an A-List Hollywood director who has arguably become a filmmaking legend within his own lifetime, his career is remarkable for having an almost dizzying amount of peaks and troughs. For every Alien, Blade Runner, Thelma and Louise or Kingdom of Heaven (go and watch the Director’s Cut then come back) which are not just career highlights but bona-fide cinematic masterpieces, there are an equal amount of frustrating stumbles and falls such as Hannibal, A Good Year, The Counsellor or Exodus: Gods and Kings. The one thing you are guaranteed with a new Scott film is awe-inspiring visuals and virtuosic world building; the one thing you are not guaranteed is a great film. It may look stunning, but all too frequently there is a hollowness lurking underneath the sparkly surface sheen.
Which leads us neatly onto Someone to Watch Over Me. Long regarded as one of the lesser entries in Ridley Scott’s filmography, this 80s Noir is being brought to Blu Ray this month by Indicator. Does the film reveal hidden depths in this new edition or does it deserve to be continually consigned towards the bottom of Scott’s cinematic output?
Someone to Watch Over Me catches Scott midway through what was turning out to be a career nadir. After hitting the ball out of the park in the 1970s with his first two films (The Duelists and a little seen film called Alien) the 1980s were proving more of a challenge. Despite its now classic status, Blade Runner had faired disastrously both with critics and at the box office, while the Tom Cruise helmed Legend faired little better. By 1986, with two big flops behind him, Ridley Scott was desperate to prove two things. First, that he could bring a movie in on time and on budget. Secondly, that he could make a successful film that didn’t rely on special effects and fantastical or futuristic worlds. He wanted to make something more down to Earth, more focused on characters and drama than world building, if only to prove to himself as much as the studios that he could do it. The script for Someone to Watch Over Me, a gritty neo-noir about a New York cop falling for the woman he is meant to protect, seemed to tick all the right boxes.
The story itself feels as old as the hills. Explored, ironically, in Indicator’s previous Noir boxset in the Ginger Rogers film Tight Spot, all the way through to 90s mega-smash The Bodyguard and more recently in Jed Mecruio’s TV sensation Bodyguard (even the titles don’t strive for originality!) Someone to Watch Over Me at least tries to do something different with a now familiar plot. When rich socialite Claire Gregory (Mini Rogers) witness a brutal murder by New York hood Joey Venza (Andreas Katsulas), newly promoted Detective Mike Keegan (Tom Berenger) is called in as part of the team to provide protection to Claire as she waits to officially identify the murderer.
Of course, Mike and Claire begin to develop feelings for each other, but screenwriter Howard Franklin attempts to throw something different into the mix by suggesting that, for Mike at least, it is not mere animal attraction at play here. Mike, despite being happily married to Ellie (Lorraine Bracco) begins to be seduced as much by the luxury and affluence of Claire’s world as by Claire herself, which stands in stark contrast to his far more humble home life.
Right from the off, Someone to Watch Over Me feels remarkably different to any previous Scott film (up to that point). Opening with a party at Mike’s house, the film immediately feels earthy and real. Gone are the gliding shots of the interior of the Nostromo and a controlled atmosphere of calm dread…here, Scott throws us headfirst into what was contemporary 80s New York with a loose, gritty, almost documentary relish. While Scott eventually relinquishes and falls back on his more formal elegance and control as the movie progresses, the opening of Someone to Watch Over Me certainly feels like a statement of intent, proof that Scott could make the real world feel just as visceral and alive as the ones conjured from his imagination.
It of course goes without saying that the rest of the film adheres to Scott’s typically glorious visuals. Despite the more grounded setting, he still imbues the frame with elegance and depth, whether he is shooting the shadowy interiors of Claire’s apartment or following Mike on the subway. The world itself, restricted to a few New York locations, never feels less than strikingly authentic and real. Yet, as frequently happens with many of Scott’s films, the story that takes place within this brilliantly realised setting feels thin and empty.
Howard Franklin’s aspiration to explore the contrast between Claire’s world of affluence and Mike’s more grounded circumstances never really moves beyond the surface. It certainly doesn’t feel like the driving force behind Claire and Mike’s relationship and more like a desperate attempt to explain why they fall for each other, as the script certainly offers no other plausible reasons or explanations. The hollowness at the heart of the relationship unfortunately means that there is a hollowness at the heart of the film. Ultimately, you just end up not caring, watching as Claire and Mike go through dull and predictable motions. Even the conclusion feels cheaply earned, tying up the story and characters in a convenient manner than happily seems to disregard the previous ninety or so minutes.
Yet it is not just Scott who tries their hardest to make it work. Berenger and Rogers give authentically understated performances that keep the film and relationship grounded (with Berenger, just coming off Platoon, proving what a brilliant actor he is, something that is all too often forgotten). Yet the real acting plaudits here belong to Lorraine Bracco. Someone to Watch Over Me was her first feature film and her performance is so good (especially in a scene that takes place outside a restaurant) it is no wonder that one critic thought that it almost destabilised the entire production. You certainly feel a great deal of sympathy for her and the situation she finds herself in. This perhaps offers another clue as to why Someone to Watch Over Me is ultimately unsuccessful. The audience just isn’t able to invest in the affair at the heart of the film because they are unable to root for the key protagonists. Claire and Mike don’t come across as tragic or ill-fated lovers, separated by class and circumstance. Instead they feel selfish and indulgent and their transgression (Mike’s especially) only ends up feeling more egregious when contrasted against Bracco’s brilliant depiction of the pain he is causing her. It’s not often you find a film where you are desperate for a person having an affair to return to their marriage.
Yet the performances in the film speak to one of Scott’s great unappreciated talents – his ability to direct actors. His work here is just as impressive as in any of his films and for that reason it is hard to write off Someone to Watch Over Me as a compete failure. Combined with his typical visual flair (a great shootout in a mirrored walk-in wardrobe certainly stands out) the film is a somewhat enjoyable and engaging watch. Yet as much as Scott buffers up the thin script with his visual polish, it still leaves you wanting more.
Someone to Watch Over Me finds the legendary director in a transitory period, struggling to make his voice heard against both his own illustrious past and his own contemporaries (Fatal Attraction trounced it at the box office). It would be several more years until Scott went on to make a masterpiece in a more realistic setting but Indicator’s new Blu Ray offers an interesting glimpse at his journey towards that point.
Indicator bring Someone to Watch Over Me to Blu Ray this May. This new edition has been sourced from a new 2K restoration and it looks fabulous. Someone to Watch Over Me utilises a dark and moody colour palette most of the time, from New York at night to the smokey, softly lit interiors of Mimi Rodger’s apartment. The encode brilliantly handles these dark and moody scenes with no signs of crushing or artefacts. The picture is pin sharp throughout and has a pleasingly organic filmic appearance. The sound is crisp and clear on the stereo soundtrack and packs quite a punch during the more dramatic moments.
The disc comes with a handful of extras:
- Audio commentary with filmmaker and film historian Jim Hemphill (2021)
- Someone… to Write a Script (2019, 11 mins): writer Howard Franklin recalls working with director Ridley Scott and the inspirations behind his screenplay
- Someone… to Shoot a Movie (2019, 14 mins): director of photography Steven Poster discusses creating the distinctive look of the film
- Original theatrical trailer
- Image gallery: promotional and publicity materials
- Limited edition exclusive 32-page booklet with a new essay by Jamie Graham, archival interviews with director of photography Steven Poster and actor Mimi Rogers, an overview of contemporary critical responses, and film credits
Commentary: The commentary is undoubtably the star of the show here. Provided by filmmaker and film historian Jim Hemphill, he not only goes into great detail about the making of the film and its key cast and crew, but, as an avid Ridley Scott nut, he adds fantastic analysis of how Someone to Watch Over Me fits into the legendary filmmaker’s wider filmography, as well as identifying visual and thematic traits. Hemphill also makes strong arguments as to why Someone to Watch Over Me is a better film than its reputation suggests. Even if you are not much of a fan of the film but still a fan of Scott, then is is an essential and hugely enjoyable listen.
Someone…to Write a Script: Screenwriter Harold Franklin provides a short interview where he discusses how the script came together and his experiences of working with Ridley Scott (super organised apparently!). He also provides a great summation of the director when discussing his thoughts on the finished film: ‘Ridley creates his own worlds rather than observes our own.’
Someone…to Shoot a Movie: Director of Photography Steven Poster provides great insight into how Scott works during this interview (how he is a quick thinker and likes to collaborate) before moving on to discuss how key scenes in the film were lit and shot. An interesting listen that goes into great technical detail at points.
The disc is rounded out with a cheesy but still effective 80s trailer and a stills gallery which contains a few interesting promo stills and some truly bizarre (but still great!) poster art.
Indicator provide a typically exhaustive booklet with the disc, which offers a decent essay by Jamie Graham (which offers a further argument as to why Someone to Watch Over Me is ripe for re-appreciation) a lengthy contemporary article from American Cinematographer where DP Steven Poster discusses the difficulties of location shooting, a short interview with Mini Rodgers and a selection of contemporary reviews.
While Someone to Watch Over Me may not rank highly in Ridley Scott’s filmography, this new Blu Ray from Indicator presents the film in its best possible light with a fantastic new 2K restoration and a small but decent amount of extras that really help to reassess the film in the context of Scott’s wider body of work. For fans of the director, this is a recommenced purchase.