The Limey (1999)

26Mar10

“Tell him I’m coming!” – Wilson

Steven Soderbergh‘s little known, neo-noir vision gives us a father’s determined journey of vengeance set in sunny Los Angeles.  Up to this point, Soderbergh had a long dry spell after his sensational “Sex, Lies and Videotape” before garnering public credibility with “Out of Sight,” and using this momentum to create an artistic, art house masterpiece. He took risks not using a straightforward narrative and timeline, but it works perfectly. Somewhat jarring at first, we experience the natural reflections of an older man when piecing together his memories.

Recently released from prison, Wilson (Terrance Stamp) is given the news his daughter Jenny was killed in a recent auto accident. Suspicious, he heads to LA, though, never having traveled outside of England. He contacts her acting friends, Eduardo (Luis Guzman) and Elaine (Lesley Ann Warren), who explain that Jenny was friendly, cautious and not likely to be mixed up in anything illegal. Forming an uneasy alliance, Eduardo later reveals to Wilson that Jenny was dating record producer Terry Valentine (Peter Fonda) and hints at his connections of drug trafficking.

Wilson locates Valentine’s warehouse and doesn’t waste time making an impression, bullying his way inside, demanding that the manager give him information regarding his daughter. Outnumbered, the thugs beat him down, tossing him out into the street, not noticing Wilson grabbing Valentine’s address from a rolodex. Undaunted, Wilson dusts himself off, grabs a small gun strapped to his ankle, marches inside and unleashes several rounds. We don’t see the violence, but can hear the screams and bullets. The camera patiently waits in the street as we see Wilson emerge, enraged, blood spotted across his face.

Later, reflecting on his past, Wilson opens up to Elaine, explaining he last saw his daughter when she was just a child because he was then imprisoned for theft most of his adult life.  He regrets being in jail and not being able to be a husband and father. We’re given flashbacks of his younger days, remarkable footage from an actual film Stamp acted in 1967 called “Poor Cow.”

With Valentine’s address, Wilson and Eduardo head to his home and find themselves at an uninvited party. While Eduardo mingles among the guests, Wilson snoops around, attracting the attention of Valentine’s right hand man, Avery.  Sending a bodyguard to talk with him, Wilson immediately flips him over to his death into a ravine, remarkably unnoticed by anyone. Soon the body is found, but Wilson and Eduardo are making their escape, Avery futilely trying to chase them down.

With Valentine in a panic, realizing Wilson is after him for his daughter’s murder, Avery decides to move him and his girlfriend to an ocean side safe house until they can track down Wilson and have him killed by hired hit men.  Barricading the house with thugs, Wilson finds their location, skillfully picking off the guards until making his way inside and finally confronting Valentine.

Wilson’s raging determination contrasts sharply with the aloof LA settings and Valentine’s lush lifestyle. While Wilson has nothing to lose, fresh out of prison and also going against type as a proper Brit, Valentine is fearful, wealthy, having everything to lose and becoming more timid as his reckoning approaches. Ultimately, the film is about veteran actors Terrance Stamp and Peter Fonda, film icons from the late 60’s, pitted against each other, two veterans showing that they still got it.

I felt drawn to the film due to its sparseness, gritty realism and action done with intelligence. There’s no wasted movement as we watch Wilson systematically uncover his daughter’s death with the skilled ferocity of a surgical assassin. The jolted narrative structure works, forcing us to patiently understand what has happened in good time. This is old school film making, a homage to two legendary actors, but injecting it with a fresh take on film noir.

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