As a boy, Figgis was raised in colonial Kenya. On returning to England, and the Newcastle area, he gravitated towards jazz and a theatre group called the People Show. It was with them that he developed as writer, director, actor, musician, and sound engineer—and note that Figgis is one of those people who like to serve a lot of roles in a close-knit group. He was rejected by the National Film School and so found himself as a self-avowed maverick. This has had the valuable result of making him unusually open to non-British material.
Stormy Monday was a self-consciously noir and bluesy view of Newcastle, with a lot of jazz and a distinct assurance at handling genre violence. But the human story never sought depth. Internal Affairs, on the other hand, was an L.A. police story that included brilliant character studies— Richard Gere and Andy Garcia have never been better—and the handling of Gere showed a rare talent in Figgis for seeing hitherto untried resources. It also felt as if Figgis was excited by L.A., by the place and its unstable society.
After that, Liebestraum seemed unduly cultish and confused, a failure despite the welcome (if gloomy) resurrection of Kim Novak. Mr. Jones had major studio battles and enforced changes, all of which left the central subject, that of a schizophrenic, intriguing, novel, and maybe a bit beyond Richard Gere. A remake of The Brow ning Version was the first sign that Figgis might face difficulties just staying in work.
Then Leaving Las Vegas—made on Super 16mm for $3.5 million—revealed nothing less than a major director in charge of story, atmosphere, and courageous performances. There may be small errors—a little too much music, perhaps—but the beauty and the severity of the film are things seen, felt, and measured by the director. American film in the nineties has had few triumphs, but Leaving Las Vegas was one that shone a baleful light on more costlv disasters. It also reveals a true romantic in Figgis, a trait he is bound to trust and pursue. For this movie, nearly too grim to take, was an unrivaled love story, too.
The encouragement of a hit and nominations only made Figgis more independent, and a more deliberate explorer of sexual dreams. One Night Stand (inherited from a Joe Eszterhas script, but redone) was an unusual study of interracial romance. But The End of Sexual Innocence was a radical departure into fable and therapy-like approach.
His low-budget Miss Julie showed little more than an obsession with his actress, Saffron Burrows. In addition, Figgis edited Projection 10. maybe the most coherent volume in that series. It is, somehow, in his nature to be tidy and untidy against all expectations. Timecode got a lot of attention for its split-screen simultaneities. But Figgis's best preoccupation is people, not machinery.