Arrow Video: Stormy Monday (1988) - Reviewed

The feature film debut of director Mike Figgis, Stormy Monday is an odd amalgam of the neo-noir genre that can be difficult to untangle. Part political thriller, part straight-up subversive neon-soaked noir, I almost couldn't tell you a thing about the film, aside from the basic plot. It's so vague and indecisive in its narrative method: much like an Argento film, it finds itself more concerned with its style over substance, which isn't necessarily a terrible thing, if the substance is right. Figgis handles his themes and atmosphere so extraordinarily well- though it's clear that this is the work of a newcomer, a tremendous amount of heart and soul can be felt throughout the entire production that gives it a sort of gumption rarely found in up-and-coming filmmakers anymore.

Sporting an impressive array of stars from late 80's to mid-90's darling Melanie Griffith and a very young Sean Bean, to Tommy Lee Jones and even Sting; Stormy Monday is backed by immense star power that, in theory, sounds like one of the best assembled casts of the late 80's. That would be the case, if the story had any sense of properly conveying exactly what it's supposed to be about. I'm all for ambiguity, and Stormy Monday has enough fantastic atmosphere and aesthetic to forgive some of its lack of plot, but in the end it amounts to nothing more than a vague pseudo-political thriller turned runaway romance that refuses to really acknowledge exactly where it's going with its twisted tale.

Arrow Video's transfer is stunning as always- allowing just enough grain to retain the picture's older filmic look without subjecting it to terrible DNR. On a larger widescreen television, the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio is maintained, giving you ever so slight bars on the top and bottom of the screen that probably shouldn't be there. Arrow Video probably would have benefited from transferring the film at a more natural 1.78:1 ratio, allowing the picture to completely fill the screen without the need for framing it between two small but noticeable black bars. In the age of screen masking in movie theaters (a sin AMC Theaters is known for constantly committing), it would be nice at least for home video companies to acknowledge the new standard for home televisions that has dominated the market for the better part of a decade now. 

This is essentially a barebones release for Arrow Video: aside from the theatrical trailer, the only other feature included is a new video appreciation of the film by film critic Neil Young which includes a revisit of the film's vast array of set locations. It might have been nice to have a more robust set of features considering the boutique label, but at least the cover art is undeniably gorgeous. The new art by digital illustrator Jacey does a great job at capturing the spirit that the film holds, and will prepare you for its tone and atmosphere well before you start to dive into this noirish riff on To Live and Die in L.A. (oh yes, it is clearly taking more than just simple cues from William Friedkin's masterpiece). It's a messy affair that almost shouldn't be as good as it is, and yet its neon-laced worldview is something that is sure to be appealing to the most hardcore of genre fans.

-Wes Ball