The Limey - 1999
Director(s): Steven Soderbergh
Writer(s): Lem Dobbs
Cinematography by: Edward Lachman
Editor(s): Sarah Flack
Cast: Terence Stamp, Peter Fonda, Luis Guzmán, Lesley Ann Warren, Nicky Katt and Amelia Heinle
Steven Soderbergh has been active as a Hollywood director for thirty years, making it close to impossible to keep track of his movie catalog. One of the casualties is his American-crime thriller, The Limey. With the film closing in on its twentieth anniversary, seems like a good time as any to revisit this hidden gem. Let's talk about it.
The story follows Wilson (Stamp), an ex-convict from England that flew to the States after learning of the untimely death of his daughter. He immediately assumes foul play and starts to piece together who was her acquaintances and who saw her last, quickly landing on the name of record label producer Terry Valentine (Fonda). It turns out Terry has a side gig as a drug dealer, making Wilson mark him as the number one suspect of his daughter's death. Lem Dobbs' screenplay is a straight forward revenge story of an "over the hill" career criminal finally coming through for his daughter, using his skills to get her justice. You can see how important it is for Wilson to do this one thing for his daughter, as he carries a heavy emotional weight for not being able to do right by her while she was alive.
Soderbergh uses a minimalistic approach for the action and the violence, grounding the events in reality. When other films would go for the over the top action sequences, Soderberg leaves it up to the imagination of the audience. My favorite is when a group of thugs beats up Wilson, and he goes back in with a gun. Soderberg stays outside the building, and we hear the shots, along with the flashes of the gunfire and the panic of the surviving thug. The camera keeps a steady shot of the exterior and Wilson walks out with blood splatters on his face. He walks straight to the camera into a tight close-up and yells: "You tell him, you tell him I'm coming. Tell him I'm fucking coming!" Simple use of blocking that elevates great sequences of violence and action, that bring dimension to what could’ve been another action movie.
I loved the use of the Terence Stamp's past films when he was young as the memories of his criminal days when his daughter was young. It gave weight to the backstory as it was not just him recalling his relationship through dialogue.
Terence Stamp was fantastic in the lead role. He was intimidating despite his age since you could see his lack of fear and empathy in his eyes. His line delivery was perfect, and he carried a lot of the film through conversation, since most of the action sequences, aside from the climax, were simplistic. Stamp's straightforward approach to the father on a warpath is contrasted by the bombastic approach of Peter Fonda as the main villain. You understood the appeal a man of his position would have for Stamp’s daughter, and you can see the resentment that realization gives him. Luis Guzmán is doing his Guzmán thing, and Lesley Ann Warren plays a great dancing partner for Stamp, as he reminisces about the past with her.
The Limey is a tight one hour and a half crime drama, filled with great performances and a director in Soderbergh looking to give the genre a facelift. Through stylized shots, creative used of camera placement and trusting the audience to put the dots together, the film feels completely new despite the simple storyline. Terence Stamp is a menacing figure and you root for him to catch the killer of his daughter and get a sense of closure for the daughter he let down due to the life he chose. If you are looking for a fun, smart, crime drama, The Limey will not let you down.
The Limey is Glass Half Full.
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