Thursday, November 22, 2012

Review: The Limey (1999)

“Okay, for real let’s try that Underneath thing again. I’ll get a [more] talented writer to help me.”

We’re stabbing into the heart of Soderbergh, lover of film and mainly of Point Blank, and later, ceilings. Similar to his last film, we have a simple story told in a non-linear fashion with a strong emotional core: a familial blood bond between a father and his freshly corpsened daughter. Also like Soderbergh’s last film, the story isn’t as complex as its characters’ motivations and responses.

Terrence Stamp, fresh out the slammer, decides to investigate the circumstances around his daughter’s abrupt death. What he finds is pretty much what he first figured and NO ONE… except for Luis Guzman… is safe from his wrath!

He must have realized he cracked some sort of code with Out of Sight, either before or during the production of The Limey, that prompted Soderbergh to run strongly in the direction of mirroring the main character’s state of mind through the stylistic choices. Think what Woody Allen did with jump-cuts in Deconstructing Harry, here with staging and brief glimpses of later scenes peppered under Terrence Stamp’s narration. The same conversation is filmed in three separate locations and edited together, a sudden dream sequence imagines a violent scenario four different ways, and the final shot of the film is placed at the beginning. It is the very definition of context -- a man is attempting to order his life, and the moment it makes sense to him, it makes sense to us.

Soderbergh pulls out stops in other areas, mainly in casting; a bunch of up-starters from the 60’s spiritually reprising their roles from Poor Cow, Easy Rider, Vanishing Point, whathaveyou. A theme of lost innocence from the 60’s is probably Soderbergh’s addition to the screenplay and coincides with his tribute to films of a bygone era.

Now, all of this is swirling around a story that is of the barest of bones. There is lengthy speech on Stamp’s daughter and their relationship, but much less about Valentine’s drug deal that incited it, the DEA’s involvement, and just how the hell Stacy and Kim fit into all of it. You can break the film down into four key scenes of action and the rest is window dressing. The climax is a siege on the villains’ stronghold… done from the villains’ perspective. Violence is brief, simple, and somehow far from visceral. Satisfaction comes from the theme. It does not come from the plot, nor the revenge itself.

There is so much to mull over regarding the film’s presentation, I don’t think it would have worked without the choices made by the director. Dobbs, the screenwriter, has gone on record (literally, the commentary) to say that film’s failing aren’t his, that vital scenes were cut out in favor of constructing the atmosphere The Limey currently enjoys. Dobbs fails to cite more than one example, and considering his next project with Soderbergh over a decade later, I think he needs to reevaluate his position. Perhaps Soderbergh has even saved it.