by Miguel E. Rodriguez
DIRECTORS: The Wachowskis
CAST: Jennifer Tilly, Gina Gershon, Joe Pantoliano, Christopher Meloni
MY RATING: 10/10
ROTTEN TOMATOMETER: 89% Certified Fresh
Everyone’s a Critic Category: “Watch an Independent Film”
PLOT: A petty thief and a mobster’s girlfriend get romantically involved and plan to steal $2 million from the mobster, but, as with all simple plans, complications arise.
My girlfriend and I have found ourselves walking out of a lot of movies over the last 5 or 6 years talking animatedly with each other about how we would have done something differently. For example: At the end of Avengers: Infinity War, we came up with an amazing lost opportunity to have Black Widow be one of the characters who got “blipped.” Then, when Bruce Banner discovers her fate, his shock triggers him to finally “hulk out” again, but out of grief instead of anger. Now THAT would have been a tearjerker.
By contrast, Bound is one of those letter-perfect thrillers where the plot has been worked out so neatly, so thoroughly, and everything proceeds with such perfect logic, that it’s impossible to see how anything in the movie could have happened in any other way. I can see no way how this thriller shot on a shoestring with such exquisite creativity could have been improved by a bigger budget or bigger stars. It recalls the heyday of film noir – Double Indemnity, The Big Sleep, Pickup on South Street – but it also feels fresh and modern, due in no small part to the fact that the protagonist couple is composed of two women.
But before I get to the nuts and bolts of the movie, let’s talk about that same-sex plot device for a second. Corky (Gina Gershon) is a petty thief fresh out of the slammer. Violet (Jennifer Tilly) is arm candy for a mid-level Mafia hood named Caesar (Joe Pantoliano). I can vaguely remember when this movie came out in the mid-‘90s, and this lesbian relationship caused a minor sensation. It even included – gasp! – a sex scene. An explicit sex scene! Not pornographic, mind you, but nothing more or less explicit than the coitus featured in other notorious sexy potboiler/thrillers, like say, Basic Instinct or Fatal Attraction or Jagged Edge.
One of the things that makes Bound so cool is that the whole lesbian angle, even though it’s a huge part of the plot, is never really…what’s the word I’m looking for…exploited in any kind of way that might now be described as progressive or, dare I say, woke. There are no melodramatic scenes showing anyone getting fired because they’re gay, or being bullied because she’s gay. Nor is the movie making any kind of statement that that kind of ugly behavior doesn’t exist. To me, Bound is simply saying, “Here is a great thriller, and the two romantic leads are women. We are showing people that it’s possible for a movie to be a superior genre film with two clearly gay characters as the leads. Let’s get on with it.” If the main couple had been a man and a woman, the overall effect of the movie might have been diminished to a degree, but the underlying story is so good, the movie might still have worked.
Then again, it probably wouldn’t have the notoriety that turned it into a cult classic, so what do I know.
Anyway, the movie. In a tale as old as noir itself, Corky and Violet hatch a scheme to steal $2 million from Caesar. How that plan leads to an astonishingly tense scene with a trio of corpses in a bathtub and two policemen in the living room standing on a blood-soaked carpet is only one of the delicious little joys on display in this film.
Take the little details. The $2 million in question gets unexpectedly splattered with some unlucky bastard’s blood. Caesar is forced to literally launder the money, then steam-dry every single $100 bill with an iron and hang them up throughout the apartment like the most expensive load of laundry in history, resulting in one of the coolest, most surreal shots in any neo-noir I’ve ever seen:
Then there are the wicked little visual innuendos scattered throughout the movie as subtle – and sometimes not-so-subtle – references to Corky and Violet’s sexual preferences. At one point, Corky visits a lesbian bar called…wait for it…The Watering Hole. That’s one of the not-so-subtle jokes, but one which I did not “get” until maybe the third or fourth time watching the movie. Sometimes I am not…smart. Or how Corky is unscrewing the pipe in the U-bend under a sink to retrieve an earring. As Violet, wearing a tight skirt, stands provocatively close to Corky while she works, we get a close-up of Corky’s hands as water from the sink suddenly splashes onto them. Or note the shot that slowly pulls out from inside the barrel of a revolver. (You know, maybe NONE of these visual jokes are subtle…I might just have been really dumb when I first saw the movie…)
And the dialogue…if there were a way for me to phoneticize a chef’s kiss in prose, I would. (<mwah>…that’ll have to do.) It puts a modern spin on the best of the old film-noir tough guy talk, that heightened kind of realism that really only exists in the movies. Take this bit when Corky is talking to Violet, formulating her plan to steal the money from Caesar:
“For me, stealing’s always been a lot like sex. Two people who want the same thing: they get in a room, they talk about it. They start to plan. It’s kind of like flirting. It’s kind of like…foreplay, ‘cause the more they talk about it, the wetter they get. The only difference is, I can f*** someone I’ve just met. But to steal? I need to know someone like I know myself.”
Nobody actually talks like that, but that’s one of the greatest passages in any crime movie, ever. I could cite example after example, but I don’t want to ruin any surprises.
Another beautiful example of how well this screenplay was constructed is how it plays with your expectations, especially if you’re a fan of the classic noir genre. In classic noir, a hero or heroine comes up with a plan, only to be betrayed by random chance or their own hubris. Sometimes someone who seemed trustworthy at first reveals themselves to be nothing but a conniving opportunist. Bound addresses that concept head-on in a conversation between Corky and Violet, where they talk about trust and ask each other very specific questions. “How do I know you won’t just run once you get the money?” “How do I know you didn’t just plan this whole thing to get me to do your dirty work for you?” In classic noir, these kinds of questions usually lead to mistrust, betrayal, and a very non-Hollywood ending, and so the Wachowskis almost seem to be telegraphing what’s going to ultimately happen. But believe me: nothing in this movie telegraphs anything. Not even those snatches of conversation we hear in Corky’s head at the very top of the film when we first discover her bound and gagged in a closet.
And even THAT’S not really giving anything away…that’s how inventive this screenplay is.
I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention the sound design of Bound. Watching it the first time around, it’s subtle enough to be unnoticeable. Watch it again, though, and really listen, and you can hear the unmistakable way the Wachowskis manipulate sound effects to create a unique atmosphere in the same way they would go on to do in the Matrix trilogy. There are many instances where, for example, in the two or three seconds before a phone rings, you’ll hear the ring in a crescendo, quiet at first, then peaking at the exact second the phone rings. It’s a little hard to describe in a review but trust me. Watch it at least once while paying attention to the sound, and you’ll hear a lot of things that sound exactly like The Matrix.
(Which might mean that Bound actually takes place in the Matrix universe…? …nope, not pulling on that thread.)
There’s quite a bit more I could say about Bound, but I think I would start spoiling some of its real surprises if I did. Put it this way: I recently compiled a list of my 100 favorite movies of all time, as a “challenge” from one of my fellow cinemaniacs. Bound wound up at #73, ahead of movies like The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, The Dark Knight, and Finding Nemo. I don’t know if that cuts any ice if you haven’t seen Bound yet, but if you haven’t, it’s my sincerest hope that I have encouraged you to seek out this movie on Amazon or Ebay and make it part of your collection. You won’t regret it.
QUESTIONS FROM EVERYONE’S A CRITIC
Why did you choose this particular film?
One, I’m not sure a lot of people realize this was an independent film (released through Gramercy Pictures, now defunct), and two, it’s a movie that doesn’t get mentioned enough, or at all, when folks list their favorite crime dramas. This movie deserves way more recognition than it currently gets, in my opinion.
Best line or memorable quote:
“You know what the difference is between you and me, Violet?”