Movie Review: Bound (1996)
“For money. For murder. For each other.”
Director: The Wachowski Brothers
Cast: Jennifer Tilly, Gina Gershon, Joe Pantoliano
Synopsis: Corky, a tough female ex con and her lover Violet, concoct a scheme to steal millions of stashed mob money and pin the blame on Violet’s crooked boyfriend Caesar.
For their first movie, The Wachowski siblings plundered Film Noir’s rich history to come up with a piece of work infused with the blackest of humour, around which they wound a tight and darkly twisted plot. Its world is a forbidding arena populated by gangsters and dykes and not much else. In her biker’s jacket and distressed jeans, Corky (Gina Gershon – Three Way, Killer Joe) is like a refugee from a Stanton cartoon, glowering at the world from between hanks of red hair. She’s renovating an empty apartment after five years inside for, as she puts it, the redistribution of wealth. In the lift, she sees Violet (Jennifer Tilly – Made in America), who looks like a cross between Betty Boop and Marilyn Monroe and lives in the apartment next door. Sparks fly, unseen by Violet’s companion, a mid-level Mafioso with the unlikely moniker of Caesar (a bewigged Joe Pantoliano – Bad Boys II, The Matrix).
A halting, unsubtle seduction begins; coffee is provided, an ear-ring lost in the plumbing. When Caesar walks in just as things are getting heated, he momentarily mistakes Corky for a man and is outraged, but his anger evaporates when he realises his mistake. That’s why the Wachowskis made Corky a woman – where could the film go from here if she wasn’t? If a male Corky were lucky enough to survive the encounter, Caesar, suspicious, would smell a rat the moment Violet and her lover put their plan into action. But Corky and Caesar have to meet so that she can see for herself what a sleaze he is.
Caesar – the mere fact of his existence in Violet’s life – makes it easier for Violet to talk Corky into helping her abscond with $2 million of mob money that Caesar’s holding. Switch the money for old newspapers, con him into thinking a disrespectful associate is responsible, and fade into the night when Caesar runs for his life. It’s a big step. It’s bigger than the hot sex they’ve enjoyed, as Corky points out, because it requires a greater level of trust between two people. She suspects a con, and so do we. The proposition comes too soon, but it’s the fault of the Wachowski’s, not Violet’s – a rare misstep in an outrageously assured debut from a pair of twenty-somethings for whom college was still a recent memory.
Corky puts her doubts to one side, and the rest of the movie is like one of those old farces full of misunderstandings and subterfuge, only the humour has a brittle dark edge, and really isn’t very funny at all. Caesar shows more spirit than anticipated. Pantoliano commands our attention – no mean feat when he’s sharing screen time with the likes of Tilly and Gershon – as he stumbles through a cycle of emotions in his efforts to recover the money before his masters realise it’s missing. His stubbornness is something Violet didn’t count on, so she has to keep reinventing the plan to keep it – and herself – alive as the bodies begin piling up.
Given the Wachowskis’ own subsequent gender re-assignation, it’s telling that the siblings chose to tinker with the audience’s concept of gender roles in their debut. Corky has the body of a woman but the mind of a man, while, beneath the thick make-up and sexy clothes, Violet possesses an unexpected intelligence and resolve that defies our preconceptions. It’s a bit strange, then, that they allow both women to be overshadowed by Pantoliano.
Bound recovers strongly from a slow start to throw twists at the screen with dizzying abandon once the plot kicks in, and repeatedly writing itself into a dead end before somehow wriggling free to turn another corner. The Wachowskis wring every ounce of tension from the plot. They push their luck to the point where our credibility is stretched to the limit. Can one man really clean up the evidence of the killing of three in the time it takes for the police to take a lift to his apartment? But Bound has no intention other than to strain our nerves, to entertain us, and to titillate us a little – and at that it’s very, very good.
(Reviewed 19th April 2016)
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