Someone to Watch Over Me (1987)
Someone to Watch Over Me (1987)

Genre: Crime Drama and Thriller Running Time: 1 hr. 46 min.

Release Date: October 9th, 1987 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Ridley Scott Actors: Tom Berenger, Mimi Rogers, Lorraine Bracco, Jerry Orbach, John Rubinstein, Andreas Katsulas, James Moriarty, Tony Di Benedetto




or his very first assignment, NYPD Detective Mike Keegan (Tom Berenger) is transferred to the much-desired 21st District on the Upper East Side of Manhattan – a classier area – which warrants a celebratory gathering at his home. With enthusiastic wife Ellie (Lorraine Bracco) and young son Tommy, Keegan’s home and work life seem to be ideal. That same evening, at a bumping nightclub, Joey Venza (Andreas Katsulas) is turned away at the entrance, forcing him to park around back and sneak in anyway. Once inside, he confronts owner Win (Mark Moses), an ex-partner whom he quickly stabs to death with an ice pick. Just outside the elevator on a balcony, guest (and Win’s longtime friend) Claire Gregory (Mimi Rogers) spies the entire ordeal.

The police arrive shortly thereafter, with Mike immediately tasked with babysitting the material witness to the homicide. And it could last for a good deal of time, since Venza might be a slippery suspect to nab. Keegan and a few other officers are stationed inside Claire’s enormous home – a labyrinthine collection of rooms filled with glass walls, marble columns, and gold ornamentation – sticking mainly to a few common areas, on the lookout for suspicious activities. And Mike gets the graveyard shift, looking after his ward during nights when she likes to go shopping or attend socialite receptions.

The rugged cop is thrust into a high-class world – one that he’s unprepared for, but one that is also populated by extremely eccentric people. Clearly, there’s some skewering of the elites going on in this gritty crime drama. Even Claire’s boyfriend, Neil Steinhart (John Rubinstein), is a snobby jerk. But the heart of this story is a taboo romance – an alluring arrangement for the overwhelmed policeman, which threatens to shatter the normal yet unexciting family life he’s created. And it’s similarly stimulating for Claire, who gets to experience the company of someone far outside her typical social circle. Interestingly, since Keegan is in law enforcement, it’s difficult to keep his late-night outings with Claire a secret; watchful, judgmental eyes are around every corner.

With Ridley Scott in the director’s chair, there’s an unhurried, careful structure to the film, allowing the romance to build, interrupted occasionally by moments of action or suspense. Scenes are precisely orchestrated, even if they turn out feeling extraneous or repetitive (including obvious product placements). It’s also a very adult tale, devoid of comic relief and levity and oftentimes blanketed in darkness and discontent (and classical music in the right spots); shots inside Claire’s apartment are reminiscent of “Blade Runner” (like a neo-noir), while many of the themes – and the violence – would return in “Black Rain.” Plus, the crime premise is fueled by legal technicalities; an angry, scowling Lieutenant (Jerry Orbach); and an intimidating, over-the-top villain.

Despite the convincing performances and the believable threats (both to Claire’s life and to the sanctity of Mike’s marriage), the lead characters aren’t terribly sympathetic. Their moral dilemmas are all of their own making, and Mike continues to make questionable choices and then wallow in guilt. Additionally, the predictability of Venza’s elusiveness and the sloppiness of the police protection are disappointing at best; everyone is poorly prepared for situations that are unequivocally inevitable. And the final confrontation and showdown with the culprit are comparably careless – not in execution but in design – particularly as luck tends to overcome actual planning and skill. By the overly neat ending, it’s evident that “Someone to Watch Over Me,” while stylistic and nicely shot, is nothing more than an average, dismissible thriller.

– Mike Massie

  • 4/10