Newcastle Upon Tyne in the late nineteen-eighties is a lot like other British cities away from London, in that it is seeking investment from outside and if that means taking funding from the United States, then so be it. One club owner there is Finney (Sting) and he doesn't know it yet, but his business may soon be under threat from these Americans, specifically powerful businessman Cosmo (Tommy Lee Jones) who is earmarking properties and companies around the place with a view to expanding his empire. On the other side of life is lowly Brendan (Sean Bean) who spots an ad for a cleaner in the club, and on his way over literally bumps into Kate (Melanie Griffith), Cosmo's old flame…
That bunch of four stars alone was a fairly impressive cast for what was writer and director Mike Figgis's debut feature, and it just so happened they were each interested in the modern film noir he had in mind, possibly because of its unusual setting for the genre, reminiscent of the fifties movie Night and the City which transplanted Richard Widmark to London to be embroiled with a thriller plot. Of course, North American actors were no strangers to visiting Britain to appear in films there, but this one had a more important thing to say about those from across the Pond showing up to lead examples of local culture instead of securing the services of someone more, well, more local.
This was a major aspect of the film's appeal to its fans, that eccentricity in Figgis mixing his personal obsessions and elements of his life experience to craft a transatlantic story and mood in a genuine sense of the term. Oddly, this went down far better in America than it did in Britain, where it was largely felt the director was trying too hard to aim for the American market and had somehow forgotten his "roots", as it were, those audiences always quick to suss out a whiff of pretension or worse, a try at willingly selling out, not because you have no choice, but because you believe it is the best choice available. Add that to its setting as Newcastle for the plot, and it just seemed farfetched in 1988.
The trouble with that is British culture, for all its protests, was greatly enamoured of the U.S.A. (no matter what The Clash would have told you), especially in the eighties where for the most part American movies were bulldozing every other nation's pictures out of the cinemas, with a few exceptions. Therefore it made sense for Figgis to court a compromise between these two poles, and in the States at least, it was not a bad idea, though as this was a FilmFour production, another reason why Brits stayed away was likely because they could see it on television a few months later, not an issue with twenty-first century projects with TV money backing it since the way movies are consumed at home has changed. Seeing Stormy Monday from that perspective, it looked almost quaint.
That plot saw Brendan get his cleaning job at Finney's club, end up escorting a Polish jazz band around, and, as predicted by anyone who saw their meet cute, romance Kate who has a job as a waitress in the city but manages to rub Cosmo up the wrong way by ultimately rejecting him, and Cosmo and Finney are both dangerous men. It was a simple plot, lacking much in the way of twists and turns, but the impression was more that Figgis - who composed the soundtrack - wanted to create a sense of his film playing out as a jazz musician would approach it, with little improvisations, twiddly bits, going for atmosphere, that sort of thing, and with Roger Deakins on cinematography duties, well on his journey to being one of the most respected photographers in the world, this was guaranteed to look very good indeed. And yet, it also looked a little silly in its reaching for class and tone (did we need to see Sting playing the double bass?), and you never got the value of Brendan and Kate's relationship as the script intended. Nice to look at, probably more so than listen to.