Sunday, May 16, 2021

Neo-Noir Watch: The Limey (1999)

Watched:  05/16/2021
Format:  Amazon Prime Streaming
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1990's
Director:  Steven Soderbergh

This is a catch-up watch, one of about ten crime movies from this era I didn't see because life is not always what it should be. 

Anyway, I was so distracted, I didn't know who was in the cast or that this was a Soderbergh movie - and I like Soderbergh movies.  All I knew was "Terence Stamp tearing shit up for 90 minutes".  And, indeed, that is true.  But, The Limey (1999) also features Peter Fonda, the perpetually underutilized Lesley Ann Warren, Luis Guzman, and an uncredited but terrific Bill Duke.  

Look, the film is - on paper - a Point Blank-like revenge thriller, that's a little thin on plot but heavy on motivation.  So, it's 90's Soderbergh and so also heavy on style - which is not a complaint - and on working with the framework of noir.  Throw in some contrasting worlds of aging participants in mid-60's culture (it's a "let's be groovy, man" Fonda v "low-fi heisters in London" Stamp).  

Stamp is a month out from a 9 year prison stint for a heist gone bad when he receives word his daughter died in a car wreck in Los Angeles, but - suspecting foul play - he heads for the States to dig up what occurred and punish anyone responsible.  Fonda plays a record exec with whom she was shacked up.

Guzman is a friend from the daughter's acting classes, and Warren a former acting coach with whom Stamp sorta teams up.  

The entire film has a sun-bleached, on-the-beach-an-hour-before-sundown look to it, something absolutely at odds with the London-to-prison-and-back world Stamp has known, and he looks out of place, trotting around in his black-on-black ensemble and high waters - just a different shade of what he was most like wearing while in the clink.  Meanwhile, Fonda has at least the trappings of a guy whose made it so long ago, he has the ridiculous house, wardrobe and string of girls who are young enough to be his daughter.  

I'll argue the film does a few things that I saw a critic or two wrote off at the time of the release of the picture, and they are jarring/ take some getting used to/ ask you to embrace something different.  The first is that the movie incorporates footage from a completely different Terence Stamp film, Poor Cow from 1967 in order to provide flashbacks.  

And that second thing is how the film uses flashback - maybe one of the oldest and most familiar noir tropes - but cut and recut into the film to give you the headspace of a man who barely knew his own child, who probably loved her but not enough - except in a few flashes or realization of how he did.  The scenes from Poor Cow are used without real dialog, just glimpses of a life he once led with a woman he once loved when things were good (and, chronologically, from before the birth of his daughter).  It's not the sort of long-take flashback of The Killers or other films, but more than any speech or scene could really convey - flashes of the face of his daughter as a child, a way that Fonda's character could never envision the latest of his sexual conquests, reminds us of who the girl was to Stamp, and that she's a person within the context of the film, not a convenient excuse for a revenge film.

Credit where it's due - this is clearly a Soderbergh film, but editor Sarah Flack's work here is pretty great.  What could have been irritating repetition instead feels like the rhythm within a song, like chord progressions and themes.  

Anyway - I dug the film.  It does feel at odds with itself as a sort of small-time crime film with 90's gloss and then wanting to be something else or different, but I like that, too.  It's not going to creep into my top ten films, but glad I finally got to it.


Stuart said...

This was a heavy recommend title for me back in the video store days. You need those smaller titles to substitute when people can't find the new release they wanted. This was one no one knew about but everyone always liked when I tried it.

The League said...

that totally makes sense. And, yeah, I know I would have been very pleased with it at any time in the last 20 years or so. Glad I finally got to it!