This is one powerful little movie. Although it’s billed as a kind of gangster/crime film, it’s really a highly concentrated character piece about a father’s grief over his lost daughter, whom he never knew well enough. Don’t watch it with expectations of another Reservoir Dogs or Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels.
Terence Stamp plays Wilson, a crook who has just been released from prison in England. He gets word from someone in Los Angeles that his daughter was killed in a car crash, and he goes out to California to find out what really happened, and to punish the man he suspects is responsible. Ultimately, the man responsible is punished–but not in the way you’d expect. (I don’t think I’ve given too much away there!)
If you’re familiar with some of Steven Soderbergh’s other films (Sex, Lies, and Videotape, Kafka, Out of Sight), you’ll know that he has a very quirky, unique way of telling a visual story in such a way that you feel right inside the characters’ heads. In The Limey he goes almost overboard with tricks like playing the audio track from one scene while cutting back and forth between flashbacks, flash-forwards and flash-completely-sideways. The story may seem disjointed during at first, but that’s because Soderbergh is not really unfolding a plot: he’s showing you the world from Wilson’s point of view. Wilson has been inside for nine years, and now his daughter is dead, and he’s in big bad LA. His thought processes aren’t exactly rational and linear.
Throughout the film, the only character that never says a word (even in the flashbacks) is Jennie (Wilson’s daughter). Yet by speaking with her friends in LA, and by learning about her life, he is carrying on a wordless dialogue with her, remembering the times he spent with her when he wasn’t locked up. (Some of the flashbacks show a very much younger Terence Stamp. At first, I thought the casting director had found an uncanny look-alike; it wasn’t until the credits that I realised that some of the clips came from the 1967 film Poor Cow.)
An action movie, this ain’t. What it is, is a classy, stylish and innovative piece of cinema and storytelling. I haven’t even touched on the beautifully natural performances by Peter Fonda and Lesley Ann Warren, or the haunting piano score, or the astonishing cinematography that jumps from classy panoramic shots to edgy, NYPD Blue style hand-held work…. As for the story, I had a lump in my throat at the end, and there aren’t many crime stories that do that to me.
There is just so much meat in this film, so much to like and to examine over and over again, that it’s hard to praise it highly enough. The only thing wrong with it is Terence Stamp’s cockney accent, which is just too highly stereotyped. But that is really the only fault I can find.
If you love film, you’ll love this film. I guarantee it. And if you’ve got a DVD player, you’ll get a stack of bonuses like a director’s commentary, cast and crew commentary, interviews with the cast, and a behind the scenes featurette. Fantastic!