Friday, May 20, 2011

The Limey (1999)

Let's take this blog back to the 90's. The decade of mushroom cuts, Who Let The Dogs Out and Jar Jar Binks.

And 1999 to be particular. That year of Millenium Bug madness. I'm pretty certain there was a lot of money being made by some people back then and what for? The general fear on the streets back then was quite ridiculous, especially in retrospect. The thought of the world ending because really fat ibm laptops couldn't understand what moving from 99 to 00 meant was laughable to me even then. Seeing those old laptops in movies like Hackers is strangely fascinating, in a way even more enjoyable than when you see those early suitcase sized mobile phones from the late 80's and early 90's. I can't put my finger on it but it's something similar to voyeurism, or driving extra slow past a car crash torn between hoping you'll see a body and that everyone is ok.

1999 was an incredible year for movies as it turns out, here are just a few: Fight Club, The Matrix, American Beauty, Boondock Saints, Sixth Sense, Magnolia, Being John Malkovich, Blair Witch Project and Baby Geniuses.

The same year Steven Soderbergh released The Limey, starring Terence Stamp, Peter Fonda and Leslie Ann Warren and featuring a kickass supporting cast of Luis Guzman, Nicky Katt, Melissa George, Joe Dallesandro and Amelia Heinle who sadly has gone on to star in such fabulous TV fare as The Young and the Restless.

Soderbergh is a hugely talented film maker and has been responsible for some of the biggest movies in recent years, most obviously the Oceans movies but at the point he shot The Limey he had been on a bit of a dry spell. His breakout film Sex, Lies & Videotape was a full 10 years before and it was only the George Clooney starring Out of Sight that had dragged his career out of the gutter in 1998. He has since gone on to make a blockbuster followed by a low budget personal movie almost like clockwork and The Limey is one of those. I LOVE IT.

A triptych of interesting artwork, British, German and American movie posters I think. The British image is the one I'm used to and one I'm most partial to. For some reason it took me months of taking the DVD out of it's case to realise that the black section in the middle was the silhouette of a gun. On top of this it has the tagline "Tell Them I'm Coming" thrown in which is from a piece of Terrence Stamp's dialogue. The American poster has a real sense of late 90's to it. Many movie posters of the period used the multiple panel style to the same effect but it also reflects the disjointed narrative structure of the film. The German one? Well it all screams a bit of National Socialism with that flag behind him doesn't it?

Once more I shall Synopsisise for you. Wilson (Terrence Stamp) is in L.A. investigating the death of his daughter (Melissa George) and enlists the help of Ed (Luis Guzman) and Elaine (Leslie Ann Warren.) His investigations lead him to her ex boyfriend, Terry Valentine (Peter Fonda) and Wilson wants revenge.

I guess you could easily label this a revenge thriller but it's so much more than that. The script from Lem Dobbs is incredible, the imaginative use of structure and repetition to tell the story and the near perfect dialogue elevate this above a mere revenge thriller. There are moments of sheer joy when you can't believe what Wilson has just done or what he has just said and the excellent dialogue isn't reserved just for Terrence Stamp, everyone has amazing moments in a non stop stream of quality writing. There are some great moments of culture clash humour revolving around Wilson having never been to America and the Americans not having a clue what Wilson is saying, coupled with characters holding prejudices towards the others country, this serves as an entertaining piece of background to the main noir plot.

Soderbergh's direction is almost an extra character at times, adding multiple layers of meaning to scenes with his use of filters, music, silence, repetitions with different delivery of the lines and the jumpcuts along the timeline allowing for interesting juxtapositions. This is a fabulous piece of film making in a genre that usually matches the brutal subject matter with a less than subtle touch from the director. The film equivalent of a literary crime novel. Instead of James Patterson or Kathy Reichs you get Georges Simenon or Cormac McCarthy and The Limey is most definitely not a Michael Bay film.

Script and direction aside the best part of this movie is Terrence Stamp. His performance is something else completely. By accentuating his London accent and slightly overacting at times he has deliberately created one of the most memorable gangsters in film history. He is extremely likable and at times even sympathetic. Whilst you may not have a clue what he's saying half of the time if you're not used to the dialect and slang you will understand his emotions.

Enjoyable on multiple levels, filled with back humour, touched by some violence, thrills, spills, a car chase, gun fights, a final showdown on a beach at night which bears remarkable similarities to a Mickey Spillane, excellent direction, a little arty, cool dialogue, a near perfect film really.

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