Forgotten Films: Someone To Watch Over Me

Whenever you hear the name Ridley Scott, there are a few movies that instantly spring to mind: in particular, Alien, Blade Runner and Gladiator. There’s certainly a good reason for this, since Alien and Blade Runner are both groundbreaking films in their own right, while Gladiator (although perhaps a tad overrated) won an Oscar for Best Picture. However, I like to think that Scott has a pretty impressive and varied filmography that he has built up over the years, and there are a lot of other underappreciated gems within that list. Sure there are a few misfires too (Kingdom of Heaven, Hannibal), but generally, he’s a director who brings a slick visual aesthetic and a sense of restrained style to some pretty high profile projects.

Recently I was skimming through some lists of the top movies from a number of directors, and among the recommended selections for Ridley Scott was a movie called Someone to Watch Over Me. I hadn’t seen it before (which admittedly isn’t a shocker), but what I found more intriguing was that I hadn’t even heard of it. On top of that, it had come towards the earlier part of his career, just after Legend and Blade Runner. For some reason, my curiosity got the best of me and decided to track this mysterious movie down.

Someone to Watch Over Me is a thriller starring Tom Berenger as Mike Keegan, a New York detective who is assigned to keep guard over a murder witness believed to be in danger. The witness is Claire Gregory, played by Mimi Rogers, who also happens to be a beautiful, rich socialite living in a massive Manhattan apartment. The main twist to the story (and there aren’t many of them) is that Mike and Claire fall for each other, turning Mike into a conflicted man and bringing his marriage into question.

It’s true that the movie is rather simple and straightforward, and as Roger Ebert points out in his review, there aren’t a lot of surprises to be found. However, there are still some noteworthy things about this movie that make it worth checking out.

Once you get past the first couple of scenes, taking place at a house party and night club respectively (both of which are so 80’s they hurt), you start to notice the Ridley Scott-isms taking over. For a concept that is rather ordinary, Scott manages to inject a lot of amazing cinematography and cool imagery into the flick. He takes high class Manhattan locations and makes them look sleek and futuristic but also dark and menacing, with the help of his immaculate lighting and penchant for smoky rooms. If you were to take some stills from this movie, it probably wouldn’t be hard to convince someone that they actually came from Blade Runner.

However, this movie was also a bit different for Ridley Scott, because it was one of the first times that he attempted to tackle a very down-to-earth, human story. Early on in his career, Ridley Scott was criticized for an inability to work with actors and actresses (Sigourney Weaver once talked about a time when she asked him for advice on a scene in Alien, and all he could do was compare her to a lens on a camera). You can certainly feel this in movies like Alien and Blade Runner, which are very cold and sterile — although in both of those cases, it actually enhances the mood. Someone To Watch Over Me calls for a little more skill in dealing with emotions, and while it’s still very clinical at times, I think the movie succeeds in communicating the internal struggle of Mike, his wife’s heartbreak, and the pure terror of the final scene that supersedes everything else.

A lot of the credit can go to Lorraine Bracco, who makes her first major on-screen appearance here as Mike’s wife Ellie (she would appear in Scorsese’s Goodfellas a few years later and get nominated for an Oscar). It’s also interesting to note that the movie stars Jerry Orbach as a hard-nosed cop that predates his time on Law & Order by a few years.

After seeing Someone to Watch Over Me, I can kind of understand why it has become a forgotten film. It feels a bit dated and formulaic, and it’s certainly not as innovative as the movies that Ridley Scott directed beforehand. However, I think it marks an interesting transition point in his career, and there’s enough talent on screen to make this worth seeking out even if you’re not a Ridley Scott afficionado.

Someone to Watch Over Me was previously released on DVD by Sony, but it’s currently out of print. Netflix, eBay and the rest of the internet are probably the best places to look for it.

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  • Russell

    I loved this flick

    I fell for Mimi Rogers based on her role here (what else did she ever do… Full Body Massage?)

    She made an unlikable character (a homewrecker) likable. And she ooozed charisma.

  • theDia

    I don´t know. I watched it back then right after being impressed by Scott three times in a row (Alien, Blade Runner and even Legend) and found it boring, too stylish for its own good and I also couldn´t stand Berengers wooden acting.

    Perhaps after all these years I should give it a second chance, but apart from it being a Ridley Scott movie theres still not much dragging me to it.

  • I have wondered whether this movie is worth my time. Luckily I can bypass Amazon and eBay in favor of Netflix. Sucks for you canucks.

  • Matt

    Thank you for contributing to Forgotten Films again, one of my favorite columns on Filmjunk. What rating would you give this movie? Sound like it would be something to check out for Scott fans. Why didn’t you like Kingdon of Heaven, Sean? I thought it was terrific.

  • I would probably give it a 3 out of 4. Yeah it’s a bit slow, but you know, so is Blade Runner.

    Kingdom of Heaven was kind of a mess I thought, although I haven’t seen the Director’s Cut. I did like Hannibal though, but I know a lot of people didn’t.

  • Sean – I assume it’s been a while since you’ve watched Kingdom of Heaven? Give it another shot, this time watching the Director’s Cut. I think you will be surprised at how solid of a movie it is (yes, yes – it still stars Orlando Bloom, but look past that!).

  • Kingdom of Heaven would have been great if they cut the love story out. What I hear of the Directors Cut is that they expand the love story, so I can’t say I’m interested.

    Quiz question: What piece of original music written for Hannibal did Ridley Scott re-use in Kingdom of Heaven?

  • Ian

    Cool. I’ll have to check this one out. Another one Scott did that I found to be pretty cool was Black Rain. The DP on that one was the guy that directed Speed and Twister but the scenes in Japan are pretty cool and the ending at that Yakuza meeting is also nifty.

  • zubzwank

    This was the first movie after 3 others (Alien, Blade Runner, Legend) which had totally created environments
    on sets that RS shot on real-world locations.

    I thought it was great, one important idea being the contrast between the blue-collar world of Tom Berenger’s cop and the ultra-wealthy world of Mimi Rogers’ heiress.

    This was very well delineated.
    It does have a very 80’s flavor to it, especially the focus on money.

  • “Someone To Watch Over Me” is the best film directed by Ridley Scott.
    Great interpretation of Tom Berenger (the true heir to Marlon Brando)

  • I adored this movie, and as someone who owns very few DVD’s, this one will remain in my collection. I’ve only met one or two people who have also seen “Someone to Watch Over Me” and not one of them was disappointed that the detective went back to his wife and son. Unlike most, I wanted the delicious detective-heiress romance to go on forever.