Thursday, July 16, 2009

Bound

Released from prison after a five stretch for the "redistribution of wealth", Corky (Gina Gershon) lands a bum job fixing up an apartment in a mob-owned tenement block. The people next door are Caesar (Joe Pantoliano) and his moll Violet (Jennifer Tilly). Caesar works for Gino Marzzone (Richard C Sarafian) and as such has to endure being partnered with Gino's viciously unpredictable son Johnnie (Christopher Meloni).

Violet, tired of all the macho bullshit and her designated role as trophy girlfriend/plaything, is immediately attracted to resilient, tough-talking Corky and the pair soon begin a clandestine relationship. But the secrecy only complicates Violet's life. She wants out; away from Caesar and his cronies; a new start in life.

When Caesar and Johnnie recover $2million in misappropriated funds from light-fingered mob accountant Shelly (Barry Kivel) and the currency is left in Caesar's safekeeping pending Gino's arrival from out of town to collect it, Violet and Corky hit upon a plan to swipe the cash and have Caesar take the fall.
At a cursory glance, I'd say pretty much all the requirements for an old-school crime caper are present and accounted for: a suitcase full of cash, an elaborate sting, an unexpected development that sends the carefully delineated plan spinning into freefall, a duped and vengeful loser, a corpulent mob boss, a loose-cannon wiseguy and a husky femme fatale. One who just happens to like other women.

This is the central conceit of 'Bound' - the machismo of the genre given a fresh spin by the elevation to protagonist of not just the gangster's moll but her lesbian lover - and might easily have been its failing. With its catalogue of shoot-outs, profane verbal stand offs, heads slammed against bathroom fixings and fingers snipped off with secateurs, 'Bound' has its share of exploitative elements. In the hands of many directors - especially, as here, two male co-directors - the romantic element could have been an exploitation scene too far, a bit of steamy soft-focus girl/girl action between the beatings and the gunplay.

Kudos to the brothers Wachowski, then, that they took Violet and Corky seriously as characters, and treated their relationship seriously as well. Don't get me wrong, the big sex scene in 'Bound' is steamy - but it's erotic in the proper sense, a culmination of the attraction and flirtation between Violet and Corky that hasn't so much simmered as ignited into flame and melted the celluloid during the first quarter of the film. Kudos again to the Wachowskis for retaining feminist and sex education expert Susie Bright as a consultant (she cameos in a bar room scene). The imagery and symbolism of the early scenes (most notably in Violet and Corky's first conversation) emphasise the feminine. I'd be willing to bet, if 'Bound' weren't so plot-driven and firmly pigeonholed as a crime movie (and, perhaps, if the Wachowskis hadn't gone onto create the beefed up mythology of the 'Matrix' trilogy and the day-glo vapidity of 'Speed Racer', that critics would be quick to tag the film as pro-feminist.

Umm, actually that's wrong. Andy and Larry Wachowski had already created 'The Matrix' ... well, they'd written the script for the first film anyway. 'Bound' was conceived as a stepping-stone, a low-budget debut that would prove they were capable of making the leap from writers (their original screenplay 'Assassins' had, albeit in a much mucked about with version, been filmed) to directors. Their aim was to instill enough confidence in the money men that 'The Matrix' would go into production with them at the helm.

A film, in other words, that got made purely so they could get another film made. And five films into their career it remains the best thing they've done.

4 comments:

Samuel Wilson said...

Neil, your last sentence says it all. This is a fine film that celebrates and challenges noir conventions every step of the way and created absolutely false expectations for the brothers' future career -- though I wouldn't be surprised to see a return to Bound form soon, now that they probably have to.

J.D. said...

I really enjoyed BOUND as well. I almost wish that the Wachowskis would return to making a smaller film like this and after the critical and commercial failure of SPEED RACER (which I actually quite enjoyed), they might have to. I can't see too many studios giving them that much money again. But hey, who knows? Strangers things have happened.

Neil Fulwood said...

For me, the most discouraging thing about the their post-'Matrix' career is that their work has been increasingly effects driven to the point where spectacle is the raison d'etre, where 'Bound' and - to a slightly lesser degree - the original 'Matrix' indicated that they were shaping up as actors' directors.

J.D. said...

Yeah, it is almost as if the Wachowskis got absorbed by the enormity of their own budgets. Interesting...