Criterion Prediction #81: The Limey, by Alexander Miller
Title: The Limey
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Cast: Terence Stamp, Peter Fonda, Lesley Ann Warren, Luis Guzman, Barry Newman
Synopsis: Aging British ex con arrives in Los Angeles to investigate the suspicious circumstances surrounding his estranged daughters death.
Critique: It’s a hard question to answer, but if you were to ask me my favorite Steven Soderbergh movie, I’d probably say The Limey. The conversation regarding American independents seems to favor the ostentatious stylists (Tarantino, Anderson, Rodriguez) whereas more pliable craftsman like Mamet, Stillman, Sayles, and Reichardt have the sensibilities to be directorial spendthrifts, working the system to their advantage, and it was Soderbergh’s “one for them, one for me” system was most evident around the time of The Limey.
In striking contrast to his aforementioned contemporaries, Soderbergh’s thrillers evoke thematic homage instead of insistent expressionism or excessive stylism. The Limey is a stealthily conceived revenge thriller with a soggy dream filter of cloaked nostalgia for the era of it’s two enigmatic and self-reflexive leads (Stamp and Fonda) instead of the genre it embodies. Soderbergh is smart enough to make an “L.A. movie” (perhaps I’m channeling Thom Anderson here) in the mold of a John Boorman (Point Blank)
Terrence Stamp’s Wilson is an occasionally indecipherable stranger who, like Point Blank‘s Walker, comes from a different code and era of honor. While his daughters memories are hazy, the scams recollected are superficial and harmless (tax fraud, counterfeit Pink Floyd tickets). His criminal past artfully incorporated footage another great film in its own right, Ken Loach’s Poor Cow, which feels as naturally woven as Soderbergh’s patent for woozy flashbacks. Wilson’s crimes are that of the working man, a point only strengthened by Loach’s proletariat docudramas. However, the more sinister adversary is embodied by the repellent yuppie incarnation, bourgeoise extraordinaire, turned shady enterprises. His business, however, vague seems a cliche-ridden regurgitation of the flower generation and the toxic fallout that survived Haight-Ashbury to spin yarns about the glory days to his self-made moll – only after he’s made out hand over fist selling peace and love to a generation too dumb to realize they’re being played for fools. Terrey Valentine (Fonda) isn’t just a villain, but a phony to boot.
The Limey is as openly sardonic as it is whimsical. It’s the type of film that has no reservations in circumnavigating narrative construct, and Soderbergh is assertive in his aesthetic cross-cutting. He’s not shy in slightest that he’s playing an elaborate trick, or experiment with a familiar vengeance yarn. The Limey isn’t a throwback, nor is it an homage or nostalgic pandering, but a dedicated expose to dislocation, cultural perversion, reversal of criminal enterprises, even parenthood. This film succeeds in evoking a specific type of our nostalgia in that we realize just how talented actors like Stamp and Fonda can be, and the viable artistry that accompanies Soderbergh’s projects, proving that art and entertainment can coexist in harmony.
Taking the first chair in front of all the great musical cues, performances, filters, slow motion and beautifully garish blood squibs is the elliptical deck shuffling editing. The outward appearance of the film notwithstanding, the nonlinear time shifting not only flatters the material but services the story in a way that makes you realize that The Limey wouldn’t work in any other way.
Why it Belongs in the Collection: The Criterion Collection is great in that they work directly with filmmakers in restoring their film to a state that best represents their work, which is how we get the all-too-familiar, signed “director’s approval” sticker on certain releases. Soderbergh is a staple in the Collection, with Schizopolis, King of the Hill, Che, Traffic, and even The Underneath as a bonus feature. The potential problem is that Soderbergh is a director who is very critical of his work. While I haven’t read anything negative by Soderbergh about his impression of The Limey, he’s not outspoken about this film either. This 1999 film was a result of the success that followed Out of Sight, and The Limey could be the earlier instances of the “one for them, one for me” agenda.