Someone to Watch Over Me (1987)

“Someone to Watch Over Me,” Scott Ridley's fourth film, released after the box- office flop “Legend” (1985) and before “Black Rain” (1989), is a minor work, a stylish and moody tale that tries but ultimately doesn't succeed in combining the genres of the cop thriller with a noirish romantic melodrama.

Even so, the film, inspired by the popular song, is anchored by three strong performances, Mimi Rogers, as the rich Upper East Side Manhattanite, Tom Berenger as Mike Keegan, the cop who's assigned to protect her, and particularly Lorraine Bracco, as Ellie, Mike's decent and loyal working-class wife.

The premise is routine: New York socialite Claire Gregory witnesses the murder of a friend and associate in the basement of the party by Joey Venza (Tony DiBenedetto), who threatens to kill her if she identifies him.

The screenplay by Howard Franklin is clich-ridden and full of tricks and gimmicks of the suspense-thriller genre. What is far more interesting is the contrast of social class, as represented by the two women, an issue seldom addressed by mainstream American films, reflecting the broader societal belief that there is really no sharp inequality in the U.S., an open system marked by upward mobility and equal opportunities.

Claire is an elegant lady, a well-dressed, well-behaved femme who's detached, cold, and reserved. She is surrounded by chic friends and is invited to prestigious receptions and openings, one of which takes place at the Guggenheim Museum. In contrast, Ellie is earthy, lusty, wearing jeans or simple clothes and using foul-language (like the f-word). Loyal and devoted to Mike and their son Tommy, she is a woman who can take care of her self and fix things.

We learn that despite her better instincts, Ellie, the daughter of a cop, also married one and now has to sacrifice family and leisure time when Mike works nights to protect Claire.

We know it's only a matter of time before Mike falls for his lady and beds her, and in so doing, he inadvertently risks her life as well as the security of his own family. Initially a happily married, well-adjusted man, who knows “his place in the world,” Mike is not only attracted to Claire sexually but also to the lifestyle that she represents; she buys him a more proper tie when they go out, introduces him to cocktails.

The emotional dilemma faced by Claire, whether to identify the killer and risk her life, is also familiar from countless other films. Problem is, the elements of a straightforward, rather conventional thriller don't mesh well with the romantic tale and its erotic undercurrents.

It's too bad that Tom Berenger has not enjoyed the career of a Hollywood leading man. Handsome and gifted, for a brief period he seemed poised for stardom after successful appearances in Kasdan's “The Big Chill” (1983), which was an ensemble piece, and Oliver Stone's Vietnam combat Oscar-winning film “Platoon” (1986), for which he received a Supporting Actor Oscar nomination.

Making a splashy debut, Lorraine Bracoo would be cast by Scorsese in 1990 in “GoodFellas,” for which garnered an Oscar nomination, and would achieve her biggest acclaim in the TV series “The Sopranos.”

What makes the film more enjoyable is Ridley Scott's penchant for sumptuous visual style and establishing the right mood. The opening sequence is particularly impressive in being a single, uninterrupted take that shows nocturnal New York at its most alluring. In a lush overhead shot, cinematographer Steven B. Poster's camera zeroes in on the Chrysler Building then crosses smoothly the Hudson River before resting at the working-class Queens home of the Keegans.

Some of the interior scenes, such as those set inside Claire's lush townhouse, were shot in Los Angeles, on the Sony back lot in Culver City.

A commercial disappointment, “Someone to Watch Over Me” received mixed-to-negative critical response, with several reviewers noting that Ridley Scott was simply too good for such mediocre generic material that any craftsman could have handled.

Cast

Mike Keegan (Tom Berenger)
Claire Gregory (Mimi Rogers)
Ellie Keegan (Lorraine Bracco)
Lt. Garber (Jerry Orbach)
Nirl Steinhart (John Rubinstein)
Joey Venza (Andreas Katsulas)
T.J. (Tony DiBenedetto)
Koontz (James Moriarty)