Monday, 1 May 2023

Mubi Monday: The Limey (1999)

A very familiar tale of a tough crook visiting somewhere to avenge the death of a young loved one (it's impossible to watch The Limey without feeling that it's under the large shadow cast by Get Carter for most of the runtime), this stands out from many other modern gangster movies for three main reasons. There's the script by Lem Dobbs, the direction by Steven Soderbergh, and, arguably the most important component, a central role for Terence Stamp that allows the film-makers to reference his past via a few well-chosen film clips from the earlier years of his filmography.

Stamp plays Wilson, an Englishman who turns up in L.A. to find the man he figures is responsible for the death of his daughter (Melissa George, shown in flashback, in a non-speaking role). He befriends Ed (Luis Guzmán) and Elaine (Lesley Ann Warren), two people who knew his daughter while she was living in that area, and starts to doggedly pursue a man named Valentine (Peter Fonda). It's pretty clear to him that Valentine caused the death of his daughter, but Valentine is always being protected, by a number of armed goons, as well as his right hand man/head of security (Avery, played by Barry Newman). It soon becomes clear that there may not be enough protection available to him though, Wilson is moving ever closer to him like an unstoppable force.

Although I used to own this movie a few years ago, I never got myself in the mood to sit down and watch the thing. As controversial a statement as it may be, I have never been the biggest fan of Stamp (his wonderfully menacing, and yet also slightly camp, turn as General Zod aside). I haven't actually seen many of his films though, including Poor Cow (which is the film used here to show Stamp in his youth). I should probably make time for Billy Budd,  The Collector, and something like The Mind Of Mr. Soames (especially after enjoying his mesmerising turn in Theorem, which I coincidentally caught on the same day I watched this). Anyway, as everyone else already knows, Stamp certainly has something that makes him very watchable onscreen, and he's a superb choice for the lead role here, even if his performance seems to border on the parody at times, in terms of his full-on cockney speaking style that some other characters struggle to decipher.

As well as Stamp, you get superb supporting turns from Guzmán, Warren, and Newman, as well as one superb scene for the brilliant Bill Duke. George is shown in dreamy visions, and I always like to see her onscreen (although it would have been nice to have more of her, despite her probably being saved from trying to attempt a cockney accent). Amelia Heinle is also a welcome presence, playing Adhara (a new female companion spending time with Valentine). The weak link is Fonda, who is arguably often picked for film roles based on his name and legacy ahead of his actual acting talent. He's just not very good, and that's all the more obvious when he's in conversation with the excellent Newman, who is the first one to realise how dangerous Stamp's character is.

The script by Lem Dobbs is quite relaxed and free-flowing, complemented by Soderbergh's usual low-key approach to the material. Cross-cutting, fantasy sequences, and jittery chronology abound, and there's plenty of sequences that have characters speaking over imagery that either adds some emotional resonance to what is being said or delivers some extra information, either about the history of the characters or the planned revenge. And I don't think I need to mention how good the Cliff Martinez score is.

The Limey lacks something though. Or, I should say, that I thought The Limey lacked something. Until the very last scenes. And that's when it all clicked into place. This isn't just a blend of cinema style and grim nihilism, and it's not just a slice of cool for an elderly Stamp to show how easily he can still strut his stuff. It's actually a look at what can happen when an ever-moving individual full of a drive for revenge realises that the target he is pursuing may show him a refracted reflection of his own past. That's when I was completely won over by it. Having fairly enjoyed most of the journey, the final destination was the undoubted highlight.


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  1. This is one of those films that I know I've seen, but can remember practically nothing about. I don't dislike Stamp as an actor, but he's never been on my top ten (although, like you, I'd make an exception for General Zod lol)

    1. Glad I am not the only one only thinking of Zod when I think of Stamp.