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:: The Limey

From acclaimed director Steven Soderbergh (aka Peter Andres, Sam Lowry) comes the new film, The Limey, starring Terrence Stamp, Peter Fonda, Lesley Ann Warren and Luis Guzman. After winning the Cannes Film Festival’s Palme D’or Award, the Independent Spirit award for best director and an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay for Sex Lies and Videotape in 1989 Soderbergh retreated into relative obscurity. He made a series of largely unknown and commercially unsuccessful films including Kafka, King of the Hill, Underneath and Gray’s Anatomy and it wasn’t until last year with Erin Brockovich (Julia Roberts) and Traffic (Catherine Zeta Jones, Michael Douglas) that he returned to his 1989 award winning form. He not only managed to direct the two most commercially successful films of his career but also garnered the first twin director Oscar nomination in close to 60 years and the first ever win (for Traffic).

This however is not where the myth of Steven Soderbergh ends. Aside from his successes (and failures) as a director Soderbergh is also an experienced producer, writer, cinematographer, sound editor and occasionally makes a cameo appearance in some of his films, crediting himself, Peter Andrews, Sam Lowry or not at all. It is with this backdrop that the Limey is about to be released in Australia. Although being made in 1999, late theatrical release in Australia is presumably due to commercial factors with the success of his latest two films.

The Limey follows the story of Wilson (Terence Stamp) who travels to gritty downtown LA to avenge the death of his estranged daughter Jenny (Melissa George). He enlists the help of her two close friends Elaine (Lesley Ann Warren) and Ed (Luis Guzman) and together they unravel the last days of Jenny’s life. This however leads them into the world of Jenny’s ex boyfriend Terry Valentine (Peter Fonda) and his security guard cum business partner cum best and only friend Avery (Barry Newman). As they get closer and closer to Valentine and his network of shady deals, they also come into contact with some of his and Avery’s rather rough associates including Stacey (Nicky Katt) and Uncle John (Joe Dallessandaro) which gives Wilson the opportunity to show his own knowledge of the tricks of the trade learnt through years of career criminality.

Soderbergh’s experience in all the different disciplines of filmmaking is evident in the unique visual style of the Limey. Told as a series of flash backs and flash forwards, the viewer becomes entangled in the thoughts, feelings, emotions and reflections of Wilson as he unfolds the mystery before him. To do this Soderbergh acquired the rights to Ken Loach’s 1967 film “Poor Cow”, to use shots of Terence Stamp as a young man. Despite the engaging style of the film, the Limey fails to capitalise on its well-written script and at times, laugh out loud one-liners.

Terence Stamp’s acting career has spanned four decades with roles in films such as The Collector, Superman 1 and 2, The Sicilian, Wall Street and Priscilla Queen of the Desert. In Billy Budd, Stamp’s film debut he played a fallen angel “ a young man who arrived on earth with angelic influences strongly imprinted on him” which was contrasted with his second film The Collector where he played the first serial killer represented on film. Of these and later roles Stamp says, “As the years went by, I was cast in either of those two roles. It was not often that I had the opportunity to play a part where those two extremes came together in one character, but Wilson is such a part.”

Peter Fonda’s cinematic history and persona is also played on in the role of Valentine, the once successful 60’s record producer who is not longer quite as rich or quite as handsome as he once was, except of course for his blinding smile. Of the role, he said, “(It) was written for me. He’s passionate, he has great taste in young women, and he’s available, even friendly, at the top of the film. Then you see the arc and how far he has really fallen.”

Despite these two critically acclaimed actors playing roles that were clearly written with them in mind, the characters don’t really move the story forward to any real climax. Fonda is perfect as Valentine, but he is simply not charismatic enough to be believable as someone the smart, sassy and beautiful Jenny or his later flame Adhara (Amelia Heinle) would fall for. He is also a bit too pathetic from the very beginning for the viewer to believe he could actually get away with anything or do any real harm to anybody.

Although Stamp draws out the two sides of Wilson, the ex-con and the loving father, they rarely come together on screen and it is hard to reconcile the two as the same person. Wilson’s “Englishness” and the fact that he is a fish out of water in LA and clearly “ not from around here” is a tad contrived, leaving the viewer alienated from his purpose and his actions and therefore not entirely convinced that his mission of revenge is completely justifiable.

Consequently despite the excellent performances from the rest of the supporting cast, the Limey doesn’t really work as a story. It is however worth a watch to see the talented director at work and to wonder what his next instalment might bring.

Screening at Cinema Nova and the Rivoli Cinemas