Wednesday, 4 April 2007
The Limey (1999) dir. Steven Soderbergh
Starring: Terrence Stamp, Luis Guzman, Peter Fonda
The subtitle for “The Limey” should be “An Ode to Terrence Stamp”. The film is so simple in story that its purpose is to showcase the underused talents of Mr. Stamp. In the business it’s called a vehicle and there have been many star vehicles created by director devotees ie. “Jackie Brown” (Pam Greer) and “Hard Eight” (Philip Baker Hall). All the films have in common an aged character actor in a film that serves to bring them back into the limelight.
“The Limey” is the story of the singularly named, Wilson, an ex-con recently released from prison. He’s on a mission to find the murderer of his daughter, Jenny. That’s about as much plot as the film gives as it’s largely a moody, reflective film from the viewpoint of Wilson. The film’s narrative structure is unique. It moves straight ahead like a traditional narrative with flashbacks to Jenny’s backstory. But within each scene the film frequently cuts forward and back to the previous and forthcoming scenes. It creates a fractured view and gives the impression of someone telling a story and frequently going back and forward to flesh out the details. There’s no narrative purpose to it, as it rarely changes the perspective of the viewer, instead it’s really just an indulgence of the director to create a disjointed feel to the film.
The film is all about Terrence Stamp, a leading man in the swinging 60’s age of British cinema and a contemporary of the likes of Alan Bates, Tom Courtney, and Albert Finney. In his later years, he became a character actor and appeared in largely forgettable films. And for most people under the age of 40 he was General Zod from “Superman II.” But Stamp has an unforgettable face and voice. Wilson is light on chatter and instead shows his teeth with a steely eyed stare and expressionless face. Each wrinkle, line, pot mark and crevice tells a thousand words. At any given moment Soderbergh will cut to a close-up of Stamp at the most random times to remind the audience of Wilson’s unwavering mission.
The film leads up to a confrontation between Wilson and the big shot record producer and part-time gangster played by Peter Fonda. Along the way, with the help of his old flame (Lelsey Ann Warren) he comes to grips with his failures as a father to Jenny. This only fuels his despair and need for revenge. Fonda and Stamp make good adversaries. Both play former tough guys long on experience and big talk but short on the physical attributes and the irony of their real-life cinematic backstories are incorporated in to the film as well.
Unfortunately Terrence hasn’t exactly received the career renaissance as, say, Philip Baker Hall has. Perhaps he’s too good to play those character-roles. He’s a leading man through and through. Have look at his first screen appearance, 1963’s “Billy Budd”, his piercing eyes stand out of the crowd even then. Enjoy.
Buy it here: The Limey
Here’s a great scene, with the equally formidable, Bill Duke: