Movie Review – The Limey (1999)
by NIR SHALEV
Wilson (Terence Stamp) is a Cockney Brit, a career criminal, and a gangster who was released from prison after serving a nine year stretch. He receives a letter in the mail that contains a newspaper clipping, one claiming that a certain young woman died in a car crash in the hills of Mulholland Dr. He believes the young lady mentioned to be his daughter Jenny (Melissa George) and he flies to L.A. to find out the truth. He has questions he needs answered: was Jenny murdered or was it really an accident? And if she was murdered, who killed her?
Wilson believes that Terry Valentine (Peter Fonda) is responsible for the death of Jenny because the word of mouth is that they were a couple for five years. Valentine is a rich music producer who wishes he still lived in the ‘sixties. Freedom was more readily available in the form of scoring drugs and a mixture of drug trafficking and music producing made him the popular millionaire that he is. He is heavily guarded at all times and has a new and beautiful girlfriend.
Director Steven Soderbergh paints a colorful portrait of Los Angeles with small hints of realism. The daytime is orange, the nighttime is blue and the shady nighttime interiors are green. Here’s a movie that was shot with 35mm film but looks like HD, which was still a whisper in the late ‘nineties. The colors induce a glorified feeling, much like when watching a sunset from Miami Beach. The characters are one-dimensional in terms of portraying the L.A. lifestyle, but deep down within they are quite complicated.
The Limey is an abstract in style and essence. Actors fill spaces within the frame that are designated for everything but them. They sometimes occupy lonely corners of the screen and are followed by wide shots of them walking down the street filmed from afar. The editing is also cut in an abstract manner: we hear Wilson speak to a woman, but he is simply staring off into the distance and in mid-sentence the film cuts to the shot of Wilson delivering the speech we’ve been hearing. That style is present from start to finish and eventually grows on us when we realize that its surreal nature is somehow appealing.
The music comes and goes between Alternative Rock and an abstract piano, mindlessly enjoying its out of tune sounds, and the when the music does not connect with the images we don’t notice it. We are so used to the editing doing the same that the music is made into a whole inside our subconscious. The abstract nature of the film fixes itself inside our heads.
The performances to note are Stamp’s and Fonda’s. Stamp likes to show off the Cockney accent by speaking a half a second slower than usual and his determination for seeking out the truth, and vengeance, is always seen on his tired but hard face. His eyes pierce the notion of prison time into anyone who looks into them; he wears a dangerous aura. And Fonda smiles a lot; he seems like a normal man who lives his life one day at a time and with little complication. But when the truth hits everybody’s thinking, “I knew it! I knew he was carrying a secret past!”
We gather that some improv has been done by the actors because they stammer and stutter, and actually try to come up with words to fill up sentences that seem made up on the spot. But it works. It’s a technique that simulates a realistic nature, encompassed by a realistic world with complex characters that don’t always know what they want. Save for Wilson: he wants to know why Jenny was killed and then he wants to shoot Valentine to death.
I feel good having seen this film. It’s hard-edged and even though it is fragmented, we comprehend a timeline developing in the back of our minds and we can understand the complexities that are Wilson and Valentine. One man wants to live his life guilt-free, but does not feel whole due to having worked WITH the system to get to where he is; Valentine dealt drugs and produced music for over 30 years and continues to wish that he was still living in the past. The other, Wilson, tries to forget the past because it reminds him too much of why his daughter had run away from him. He will never forget Jenny and claims to remember every moment with her and of her growing up; but, he claims, in moderation.
It’s sad but Wilson chose this life and the complications of the present make him regretful. He regrets being away for so long because now he doesn’t have a daughter to spend time with. And that as a theme for a Soderbergh film is rare, but greatly appreciated.