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.