Rates: * * * *
Why Did I Watch It? Just finished ‘Best. Movie. Year. Ever.’ and am keen to catch up on some films I have not seen from 1999.
Ageing tough guy Wilson comes to LA after the death of his daughter. He’s the titular character, a British ex-con with an old school code of ethics, out to avenge what he believes is foul play. His investigation immerses him in the debauched world of behind the scenes Hollywood, here wealthy entertainment executives party down with young starlets. It’s a culture clash, heading for a violent outcome.
Steven Soderbergh’s crime drama has a lot in common with its main character. This is stripped back, bare bones film making, of a kind that was becoming less common in 1999, and is pretty much non existent now. The Limey has the look and feel of a classic noir; there is a death, a mystery, a serpentine plot, and a tough minded hard case trying to unravel it all. But unlike standard genre entries, which are set at night, this one happens mostly in the daytime: Wilson is out in the Californian sun. The people he is after will not be able to hide in the shadows.
Soderbergh also employs a more energetic style than you usually see in this genre. Wilson is tormented by his memory; his daughter, her mother, mistakes from the past. There are flashes of these constantly throughout the film; not flashbacks exactly, but a pulse, an image or a snapshot. Wilson’s personal history is foremost in his mind, and it guides all of his actions, and these stylistic choices allow the director to freshen up something well worn.
Terrence Stamp is at the centre of the action, and delivers a top notch performance. A star originally of the 1960s British cinema revival, footage from the Ken Loach film ‘Poor Cow’ fills in some of Stamp’s backstory, he is perfectly suited to a story about a holdover from a bygone era. Stamp’s natural swagger and charisma makes Wilson seem both charming and menacing. The standout moment is probably when he faces the camera, blood splattered across his face, and roars ‘Tell him I’m coming!’ But he is equally adept bantering with his allies, or telling wistful stories about his life.
Stamp is well paired with Peter Fonda, another 60s icon, playing villainous record producer Terry Valentine. The movie kinda plays around with the idea that this could be what happened to Captain America, if he hadn’t been killed at the end of ‘Easy Rider’; turning the ideals of the sixties into a consumer product, quick cash and a comfortable lifestyle. The film is also assured enough to make him less than evil; just a flawed man, who has made bad decisions. Something that Wilson can entirely relate to.
A smart, well made film, with an economical run time, and considerable impact. Soderbergh is a versatile director, and has an excellent feel for a variety of genres.