Starring: Jennifer Tilly, Gina Gershon, Joe Pantoliano
Director: The Wachowski Brothers
Bloated big budget movies awaited them, but Bound (1996) – their calling-card to Hollywood – shows that the Wachowski brothers could have followed in the footsteps of the Cohen brothers had they wanted to. It’s a movie that gave noir a fresh lick of paint for the ’90s, with a lesbian twist.
The traditional part of the doomed schmuck caught in a web of fate is taken by Gina Gershon’s Corky, a tomboyish ex-con turned painter and decorator, while the femme fatale role goes to Jennifer Tilly’s Violet, with her ’50s styling and tight sweaters. Corky is doing up a large apartment and Violet lives next door with her mobbed-up boyfriend, Ceasar (Joe Pantoliano). They have more in common than at first appears – Violet might not have been to prison, but she knows what it feels like to be in one. (Arguably Caesar is just as trapped as them, in the fraternity of the mob, but loyal to a fault, he likes it that way.) The two start an affair, and then plan to run off together with $2 million that one of Ceasar’s cohort has skimmed off his money-laundering operation.
Will there really be a happy ending for this pair? For much of the movie, it’s up in the air whether this is all a ploy on Violet’s part – in she Thelma to Corky’s Louise, or is she Barbara Stanwyck to her Fred MacMurray, Mary Astor to her Humphrey Bogart? Corky is on some level indifferent – clued-up, with a hint of a knowing smirk, yet too bored, horny and flattered to turn down a warm bed, even if it comes with deadly strings attached. Like her, you know where this is going, or at least you think you do, but you’re drawn in anyway, just in case it plays out differently this time.
Gershon’s best moment comes when she’s alone. “Two million dollars, Corky,” she sighs to herself, kicking the paint drum where she’s hidden the bag of cash, knowing that the smart thing to do would be to take it and split, but bravely hanging around anyway (you want to give her a supportive hug). Joe Pantoliano delivers a showy but cleverly shaded turn – not dissimilar to his part in The Sopranos – as the ratty, very unregal Ceasar, who is deceptively dangerous, capable of quick, lethal action, yet still somehow sympathetic (after all, what did really he do to deserve any of this apart from be in Violet’s way?). But the real surprise is Tilly, inscrutable and dark behind her beady eyes, doll-like face and gently cooing voice.
Bound stiffed at the box office because it was marketed, wrongly, as a erotic thriller, a knd of LGBT sequel to Body Heat. It’s decidedly not that, and it makes no attempt to duplicate the lush sensuality and sexual frisson of Lawrence Kasdan’s film. There’s one memorable sex scene – a crane shot filmed in 360 degrees – which is enough to convince you that Violet now pretty much owns Corky, but otherwise the lesbianism isn’t exploited for its titillation value.
Unlike most latter-day noir homages, Bound doesn’t go all out for a neurotic, pulp-poetic, vampish vibe. That’s because it’s eye is on the more hardboiled, mathematically constructed, emotionally tight-lipped proto-noirs, particularly Double Indemnity and The Maltese Falcon. It’s starts out like one, then ends up like the other. Like The Maltese Falcon, it takes place largely indoors – in this case on an elaborate studio set of the two adjoining apartments, with the camera flying through and over walls and able to look down on the characters like mice in a maze. It’s about people in a room talking themselves into trouble and then trying to talk their way out of it again. The film hits a high of slow-boiling tension and chess-game intensity once the $2 million comes into play and everyone – including a bunch of mobsters who come knocking on Caesar’s door – wants to know what has happened to it. Arguably the script cheats and backtracks a bit towards the end, dampening the impact of the finale, but at its best Bound does a marvellous job of capturing the spirit of Huston, Wilder, et al.
The constricted, studio-bound quality of the drama helps the viewer touch base, at a subconscious level, with the films of ’30s and ’40s, as does the clever decision to paint Violet’s apartment mainly in greys, with only the dark mulberries and maroons of her costumes and makeup as accents (there’s one shock of vivid red when Caesar bursts in carrying a blood-soaked bag of money). This dusky palette comes across beautifully on the excellent HD transfer. It’s so crisp and sharp, the patterned pink and white wallpaper in the apartment Corky’s decorating looks almost 3D, you can see the textures of the walls of the lift in the opening scene, and there’s an impressive sense of depth as the camera moves through the film’s many striking set-ups.
The disc has nearly 1 ½ hours of extras. There’s a nicely done 29-minute “making of” documentary, with chats with the DP, the editor and the composer from which we learn, among other things, that the Wachowski brothers were housepainters when they wrote the script. Gina Gershon and Jennifer Tilly talk in a lively 26-minute piece. Both are very insightful and charming, but Tilly is an absolute scream, funny, honest and self-deprecating. It’s a piece full of interesting nuggets of info. Apparently they were both competing hotly for the part of Corky (presumably because it was more unusual, but ironically Violet is in the end the better, larger part with more layers), while Linda Hamilton and Rosanna Arquette were in the running for Violet. There’s much talk about the sex scene. It’s explained that it was quite a technical feat, and not at all romantic – as the camera swung around on a crane, walls had to be lifted out of the way by grunting, sweating stagehands. Gershon got Tilly in the mood beforehand by bringing her tequila and chocolate.
We also hear from Joe Pantoliano (“Joey Pants” to his friends) in a 13-minute interview. He talks about the efforts he went to, first to get a meeting with the directors, and then to make Caesar a “worthy adversary” for the girls. Apparently producer Dino De Laurentiis had his doubts about Pantoliano: “Joey Pants is a cha-racter actor, he is not a leading man.”
Last but not least, there’s also an audio commentary with the Wachowski brothers. They mumble and seem a bit miserable at first, but then cheer up when Joey Pants arrives late to join the party.