Someone to Watch Over Me (1987)
Most of the films in Ridley Scott’s filmography are fairly well known, but there are a few that are glossed over for whatever reason. For this film, the fact that it didn’t even make its money back at the box office is the likely reason, but it still garnered very positive reviews from critics. This is indeed a film of special, exceptional quality. Someone to Watch Over Me is not your typical Ridley Scott film, in most part. It’s story is definitely a cop thriller with a great urban atmosphere, but primarily, this is a romantic film done with great, beautiful artistic flare.
A stunning New York socialite and a down-to-earth city cop are caught in a deadly web of illicit passion and heart-stopping suspense. Newly-appointed detective Mike Keegan (Tom Berenger) finds his life turned upside down when he’s assigned to protect Claire Gregory (Mimi Rogers), the beautiful eyewitness to a brutal murder. Lured into danger and the dizzying heights of Gregory’s glamorous lifestyle, Keegan struggles to walk the line between protection and obsession – while trying to stay one step ahead of the psychotic killer Joey Venza (Andreas Katsulas), and not allow his happy marriage to fall apart over his affair with Claire.
I really like the vibe of this movie. It does have a very romanticized artistry to it, but with the moody subtlety that Scott is a master at. Oddly, while watching this, I got a very similar feeling as I got watching the John Badham romanticized version of Dracula, starring Frank Langella. It’s that foggy, subtle romantic visual quality with its greens and ambers which really struck me that same way. Someone to Watch Over Me is a finely crafted and gradually paced work of art that smartly blends the seductive beauty with the dangerous crime elements. By the trailer, you’d likely expect something a little more thrilling and exciting, but even then, this film easily roped me in. This is surely due to the great casting and excellent acting.
Michael Keegan is not the usual kind of movie cop. He’s surely streetwise, but he feels a little green and out of his element. Having just been promoted to Detective, he doesn’t have the consummate manner of those around him, and coming from Queens, he’s not accustomed to the high life sophistication of Claire’s world. So, he’s a bit of a blue collar style easy going guy, and Tom Berenger does a stellar job in this role. He’s extremely likable and fun loving early on, and progresses into a more serious, emotionally complex character as events unfold. You can see that Mike is very happy with his family, but as he gets deeper involved with Claire, everything begins to be torn apart within him. Berenger has great and distinctly different chemistries with Mimi Rogers and Lorraine Bracco, who portrays Michael’s wife Ellie Keegan. Both relationships have their own touching qualities, and work equally as beautifully. Ellie perfectly reflects the man he is, but Claire gives him something fresh and seductive. It’s an odd dynamic that you can feel so much for Mike and Claire, knowing they have something unique together, but also, view Mike as the bad guy opposite Ellie. That’s really a testament to Berenger’s talent. He makes Mike a very down to Earth guy with flaws, but never comes off as a reprehensible adulterer, just a man of sympathetic conflicts of the heart.
I was very pleased with what Mimi Rogers accomplishes in this role. The few moments where Claire is confronted by Venza are intensely fearful, and Rogers is greatly convincing. However, the majority of the film is focused on Mike and Claire becoming closer and more intimate. She proves to be a gorgeously romantic woman who is not a seductress. There’s nothing lurid about these two becoming involved. There is a genuine endearing attraction there that is quite touching, and the building of a chemistry and attraction with Claire is done quite subtly. She is charming, elegant, and vulnerable, but still exerts confidence. There’s a fine line between where she feels safe and self-assured and feeling very frightened that Rogers handles with delicate balance.
Through all this, you honestly feel for Ellie a great deal because she’s done nothing wrong to deserve this betrayal of her love. Lorraine Bracco is wonderful showing the agonizing pain of Ellie. She loves Mike so dearly, and that pours out so richly once she is scorned. This is really an exceptional performance as we see a full spectrum of emotion from Bracco from the loving and down to Earth woman to the deeply hurt wife and even beyond that in the film’s climax to utterly frightened to death. While the film is heavy on the Mike-Claire relationship, Bracco does such a strong job to keep Ellie’s end of the film relevant and emotionally impactful. By the end, that is the crux of the film’s resolution.
And I really adore Andreas Katsulas. He was taken from us far too soon. Many would know him as the one-armed man in The Fugitive, but my heart with him lies with the science fiction series Babylon 5. Here, his role is full-on in intimidating heavy mode. His screentime is fairly restrained, but his presence is almost always felt. That presence is very effective right from his first few minutes of screentime all the way through to the taut, thrilling climax. Katsulas takes that great talent of his and compounds it into a lethally threatening performance. Like with everything else here, the key word is definitely “subtlety.” Ridley Scott has such a great handle on tone with his visuals and actors that it is no surprise that everything is just pitch perfect throughout this cast. Of course, I couldn’t forget to mention the late and charming Jerry Orbach as the solid Lieutenant Garber. Orbach is always a bright pleasure to see in anything he ever appeared in.
It also put a smile on my face when Michael Kamen’s credit came on screen as the composer. I really, dearly love his work. There was always a real elegance and sophistication he brought to his scores, and Someone to Watch Over Me definitely gave him the opportunity to flesh out some lush, romantic cues. There’s the obligatory saxophone parts, but it’s done so very beautifully. It really is a lovely tapestry of romanticism that he weaves throughout this film while never remotely approaching over the top melodrama. He’s aided a little by a smooth jazz style arrangement of the title song by Sting, and some fine music tracks from Steve Winwood and Fine Young Cannibals early on. The work Kamen does with the tenser, more thrilling scenes is very effective and taut. This is the perfect score for this movie accentuating every subtlety with careful craftsmanship.
Also, it seems that no matter what cinematographer Ridley Scott works with, his visual style always comes through brilliantly. You could turn this movie on, not knowing anything about it, and know it is a Ridley Scott movie just by the rich atmospheric noir look of it. Someone to Watch Over Me is absolutely gorgeous re-crafting the looks of Alien or Blade Runner into a romantically effective package. The scenes early on in the night club and art gallery are brilliant, perfect examples of Scott’s signature style. Later on, inside Claire’s upscale apartment, the overall look is very seductive with soft, dim amber lighting. As usual, Scott uses very deep blacks and smoky, shadowy visuals to create a mysterious atmosphere, and even on the streets of New York, that works so stunningly well. If for nothing else, Scott is one of my favorite directors based on his gorgeous visual neo noir style.
Beyond all of the stunning aesthetics, the story played out in both the seductive romanticism and the dangerous crime thriller are perfectly interwoven. I found the balance just right for the film’s intended emotional direction. I would definitely imagine a film like this today being forced to be packed with a lot more action and excitement instead of developing the romance and subtle suspense. Thankfully, this was made in a time when someone like Ridley Scott, whose last couple of films had not done well at the box office, was able to make the movie he wanted to make. He does a fantastic job with Howard Franklin’s screenplay just enveloping it entirely in his articulate, detail oriented sensibilities and wonderfully inspired visual style. Yet, the visual awe is not used to mask any lack of substance, but to enhance the strengths of it all.
I really did enjoy Someone to Watch Over Me. If you enjoy a classic thriller with a twist of romance, which the film’s tagline boasts, you will certainly find some satisfaction here. Ridley Scott directs this film with class and a focus on the smooth moody atmosphere and gradual development of its characters. The cast is absolutely top notch featuring substantive and respectable work from everyone involved. This film is actually a very clear precursor to Scott’s next film, Black Rain, which was an excellent full-on thriller, but still with a lot of that romanticized atmosphere of danger. If you’re looking for the exciting flipside to this seductive film, Black Rain is absolutely that film. Just forego watching the trailer. It’s a little on the spoilery side. Anyway, Someone to Watch Over Me is a very beautifully crafted and executed film that I really do highly endorse.