Thursday, July 3, 2014

Classics Revisited: Bound (1996)

Bound (1996)
Directed by: Andy & Lana Wachowski.
Written by: Andy & Lana Wachowski.
Starring: Jennifer Tilly (Violet), Gina Gershon (Corky), Joe Pantoliano (Caesar), John P. Ryan (Micky Malnato), Christopher Meloni (Johnnie Marzzone), Richard C. Sarafian (Gino Marzzone).

As much as I admired the first two Matrix movies (before the third came crashing down in the most un-imaginative way possible) as well as the wildly ambitious Cloud Atlas, a part of me wishes that The Wachowskis had stuck to making films like their brilliant debut – Bound. The film is an erotically charged lesbian love story, a dark neo-noir and an intricately plotted heist film all rolled into one, and playing out exclusively in primary colors – dark blacks, pure whites and deep reds. Watching it again recently, for the first time on Blu Ray, I was once again struck by just how brilliant a stylistic film this was, and how enjoyable it is. It is probably my favorite film the Wachowskis have made, even though it is undeniably their least ambitious. It is a small, perfect little film.

The film stars Gina Gershon as Corky – a lesbian recently released from prison that has got a job remodeling an upscale apartment. Next door lives Violet (Jennifer Tilly) and Caesar (Joe Pantoliano). He’s a low level gangster – a money launderer who works at a club, and she’s his sexy, flinty voices moll. Violet and Corky lock eyes on an elevator ride up to their floor – and Caesar seems to miss the instant erotic charge between them. There’s a few flirtatious scenes between the two women, who are feeling each other out for a while, for different purposes. Corky is wondering if Violet is just posing as a lesbian, or really is one. She doesn’t care at first – after years in jail she just wants to get laid – but when Violet comes up with a plan that involves stealing $2 million from the mob, and needs Corky’s help, she becomes curious. The walls in the building are thin – and Corky hears Violet and Caesar having sex – and later another man who shows up at their door, who is clearly in love with Violet. But Violet tells her what Corky heard was “work”. Corky had told her she became a thief because she was good at it and could earn a living. “You think you’re the only one with a talent” – Violet asks her when Corky questions her about her “work”.

The casting in this movie is just about perfect. As Corky, Gershon does what she did best in the 1990s – and that is ooze sexuality. A smart actress – she seems to be the only cast member of Showgirls who was in on the joke – she knows that in Bound, she’s been cast to play the “butch” – and she does it just about perfectly. Jennifer Tilly was just two years removed from an Oscar nomination for playing the ditzy gangster moll in Woody Allen’s Bullets Over Broadway, and her role her is outwardly similar – except of course Violet isn’t a ditz – she just pretends to be one. The pair’s chemistry is instant – the sexual heat coming from these two is thick from their first scene, and their sex scenes (erotic, but not over the top) simply enhance that tension, not relieve it. If you want to cast a violent, paranoid gangster role, there are few who can do as well as Joe Pantoliano – who is wonderful as Caesar, always a step behind. For most of the movie, this is a three hander between these three – but it does get some help from a pre-SVU Christopher Meloni as a psychopath gangster who hates Caesar.

The real star of the movie though is the Wachowski’s themselves. They have never been subtle directors, and they certainly favor style over substance. Yet when the style is as good as it is in Bound, I find it impossible to complain. They take a premise that could lend itself to being stilted – or feeling like a filmed play – since almost all of the action happens in the two neighboring apartments. Yet the Wachowskis use color well in this film. They give the film a noir look – not easy to do in color – by mainly limiting the colors they use. Everything in the movie is either black, white or red – and sometimes the combination of them is striking (the blood in the white paint).

The plot of the film takes one skillful twist after the next. I’ve seen the film a few times over the years, and yet each time I got caught up in it anew. Corky and Violet come up with detailed, intricate plan to steal the $2 million for a briefcase and get away with it – that involves a lot of assumptions about how everyone else is going to react. Of course, it doesn’t play out like they think it will – and have to improvise on their feet, and get out of one tight spot after the other. I was reminded of another pair of sibling’s debut film – The Coen’s Blood Simple – where each and every decision in the film makes sense at the time, but only because the characters don’t have all the details the audience does. The Wachowskis are easier on their characters than the Coens are however – leading to the conclusion we want.

I remember back in high school in a media class when we were discussing homosexuality on film – and the teach brought up Bound to dismiss it as a “male fantasy”. Sure, to a certain extent it can play that way – Tilly and Gerhson are almost impossibly sexy in this movie – and Tilly flaunts her body in skintight, short dresses in each and every scene. There are lesbian love scenes, shots of Gershon bound (hence the title I guess). I’ve never really bought that though – The Wachowskis did hire Susie Bright, a writer of lesbian erotica, to be a “technical consultant” on the sex scenes – which is perhaps why they aren’t as over the top as something like Blue is the Warmest Color. And knowing what we now do about Lana Wachowski (who was Larry at the time), it does put things in a slightly different light. Besides, how many American movies have featured lesbian in any type of role in the 18 years since Bound? We’re still not at a point where homosexual characters are allowed in most movies unless they are about their homosexuality. Bound is an intricate, erotic thriller – where the characters just happen to be lesbians. That’s still somewhat refreshing.

Mostly though Bound works as a thriller, erotic and otherwise, and as Roger Ebert points out at times like a slapstick comedy. There is a lot of physicality in this movie – and no one seems to be taking it overly seriously. Bound is an undeniable genre exercise – but a great one. Part of me wishes the Wachowskis had never made The Matrix – and continued on the path they set in this movie. Or least that they would revisit it from time to time.

No comments:

Post a Comment