In Larry and Andy Wachowski's Bound, film noir gets one helluva gender-bending. But when the scamming and shooting stop, the genre looks healthier than ever.
Envision Double Indemnity with two Barbara Stanwycks, no Fred MacMurray and a couple of enflamed lesbian love scenes. Throw in a briefcase stuffed with 2 million bucks of Chicago mob money, a four-pack of macho goombahs who see women as ornaments and a couple of adjoining apartments separated by paper-thin walls. The ingredients add up to an exciting, keen-edged thriller nourished by an inventive character twist and some very clever writing. If Bound is what neo neo-noir is coming to, then we like the drift.
Enter the heroines. Violet (Jennifer Tilly) is a purring, satin-swaddled Mafia moll with a difference; she puts up with her volatile, demanding "boyfriend" Caesar (Joe Pantoliano) only because he pays the freight and because he'll one day provide the chance for a big score. Corky (Gina Gershon) is the classic outsider, like John Garfield's drifter in The Postman Always Rings Twice, who's drawn by lust into a larcenous plot. Plumber, grease-stained handywoman and ex-con, Corky wears a curled-lip sneer on her face and a shell around her heart. But when next-door neighbor Violet turns up the heat, this underdog pair are as hot to get into each other's pants as they are to empty the local godfather's pockets. Jesse Helms may not like it, but Violet and Corky are the most appealing pair of adventuresses since Thelma and Louise took that header into the Grand Canyon. They also hope to be a lot richer.
The brothers Wachowski, Chicago boys who share a dark sense of humor and an unerring instinct for when to snip off a mobster's finger with a pair of garden shears, have absorbed Billy Wilder as well as Quentin Tarantino. So once their cool, scheming women plant hooks in the mob tough guys (John P. Ryan, Christopher Meloni, Richard Sarafian) via the hotheaded Caesar, we can all sit back and delight in the elaborations, and the improvisations, of their fiendish plan.
Like many first-time directors, the Wachowskis go in for a lot of visual trickery--bizarre camera angles, frame-filling closeups of gun barrels and self-conscious mixtures of white paint and blood. But the Sapphic twist in their story is more than a hip gimmick or a simple inversion of our expectations: If you're looking for some really powerful feminist revenge fantasy, skip the honeyed cuteness of The First Wives Club and catch Bound. The film's sisterhood is even more potent than its sinister wallop--or its sex.
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It's hard to imagine actors having a better time than Tilly, who played Olive in Bullets Over Broadway, and Gershon, recently freed from Vegas and the disastrous Showgirls. We can't wait to see Violet and Corky take down Pantoliano's strutting Caesar, who might remind you of a young Jack Nicholson with a very bad attitude, and the lunk-headed Johnny Marzzone, a thug whose brains are all below his belt. But can they do it? You never know in the dangerous world of film noir.
The Wachowskis sprinkle some terrific comic ironies through their movie, none better than the spectacle of Caesar, the Mafia money launderer, forced to spend an entire night literally washing a huge, bloodstained cache of hundred-dollar bills, then ironing them. In terms of the role reversals and gender-bender games that underpin Bound, such details are priceless. So is this smart, liberating, thoroughly entertaining caper--a movie fit for any woman's or man's most wicked bout of desire.
Bound. Written and directed by Larry and Andy Wachowski. With Jennifer Tilly, Gina Gershon, Joe Pantoliano and John P. Ryan.