Director: The Wachowski Brothers (Andy and Larry Wachowski)
Screenplay: The Wachowski Brothers (Andy and Larry Wachowski)
Stars: Jennifer Tilly (Violet), Gina Gershon (Corky), Joe Pantoliano (Ceasar), John P. Ryan (Micky Malnato), Christopher Meloni (Johnnie Marconi), Richard C. Sarafian (Gino Marzzone), Barry Kivel (Shelly)
MPAA Rating: R
Year of Release: 1996
Country: USA
What is it these days with dynamic brother writer/director teams? First there were the Coen Brothers with their 1984 debut "Blood Simple." Then 21-year old Allen and Albert Hughes stunned the world with 1993's "Menace II Society." And now we have Andy and Larry, a.k.a. The Wachowski Brothers, Chicago-based college dropouts and first time directors with the kind of commanding control of film that many twenty-year veterans would sell their souls for. Put simply: these guys know how to make a movie.

And what a movie they chose for their debut. "Bound" is one part Tarantino, one part Coen brothers, two parts Hitchcock, and a sprinkling of Scorsese, with a liberal dash of lesbian chic. In the best tradition of film noir, the first half of the film involves the planning and carrying out of an intricate plan that almost works, and the rest of the film involves cleaning up the mess that ensues. It's a virtuoso writing and directing coup these brothers have pulled off. "Bound" is tough, darkly comical, highly stylized and dazzling in its ability to draw the viewer into its shady dealings and double-crosses.

The story concerns Violet (Jennifer Tilly), the longtime live-in girlfriend of Caesar (Joe Pantoliano), a mid-level member of the Chicago Mafia (or "The Business," as he refers to it). Violet falls in lust with their new neighbor, an ex-convict just out of jail named Corky (Gina Gershon of "Showgirls"). With her tough mouth, baggy pants, combat boots and cropped hair, Corky is all the butch cliches rolled into one. Violet, on the other hand, is all feminine charm, with her tight skirts, black stockings, and liberal amounts of lipstick. Physically they are complete opposites, but as the film progress, both Corky and Violet, as well as the audience, begin to realize how much they have in common.

And one of those things is ambition. Violet is sick of Mafia life -- sick of sitting in the living room while Caesar and his Mafia croonies beat a man in the bathroom and cut off his fingers. So she comes up with a plan. Enlisting the aid of Corky (who is an expert thief), they devise a complicated scheme to snatch $2 million right out from under Caesar's nose when he's supposed to be delivering it to the boss, Gino Marzzone (Richard C. Sarafian), and then blame it on the boss's obnoxious son, Johnnie (Christopher Meloni).

It's a slick plan, but it also relies too much on predicting Caesar's behavior once he realizes the suitcase is filled with newspapers instead of hundred dollar bills. Unfortunately for Violet and Corky, he doesn't act exactly like he's supposed to and next thing you know, the bathtub is stacked with dead bodies, cops are snooping around, other Mafia members are getting suspicious, and Violet and Corky are tied up and about to have their own fingers cut off.

The Wachowski Brothers navigate their way through these dark proceedings with delicious intensity. The first part of the film deals graphically with the affair between Violet and Corky, and you get the feeling the screenplay (like Joe Esterzhas's "Showgirls") is mostly interested in translating male mastarbatory fantasies into big screen reality. There's one explicit and one even more explicit lesbian sex scene, and it's a wonder the MPAA didn't slap "Bound" with an NC-17 just for thinking about them.

But once the plan to steal the $2 million gets rolling, most of the sexual overtones are dropped, and the Wachowski Brothers concentrate on suspense, tension, and complications. There are several scenes that would have made Hitchcock proud, especially the part where two policemen are investigating gunshots they heard in Caesar's apartment. Caesar has pulled a rug over a large pool of blood in the middle of the living room, and a great shot shows one of the policeman unknowingly stepping on it, forcing blood to squish up through the fabric.

Tilly and Gershon are picture-perfect in the two leads roles. I've never been thoroughly impressed with either one of them in films before, Tilly especially who ground my nerves to a frazzle in Roger Donaldson's horrible remake of "The Getaway." But in "Bound," she underplays the bimbo aspect she perfected in "Bullets Over Broaway," and instead concentrates on being a human with complex emotions and confused feelings. As Caesar, Pantoliano borders on being a parody of Mafia-types, but he never falls over the edge.

The Wachowski Brothers are at their best when creating mood and tension, aided greatly by Bill Pope's fine cinematography and a pounding blues-rythm score by Don Davis. They pull out every cinematic trick in the book -- including slow motion, high camera angels, extreme close-ups, zooms, extensive use of shadows, flashbacks, overlapping action, and sweeping camera movements -- and it all works marvelously. Too often when filmmakers use these tricks, they just draw attention to themselves. But the Wachowski Brothers blend them together seamlessly, so it enhances rather than detracts from the storytelling.

"Bound" is a quite simply, a stunning film from beginning to end. It knows exactly where it wants to go, and it runs there with intricate precision and style. While not for every taste, "Bound" is a cleverly crafted masterpiece that signals the arrival of Andy and Larry Wachowski on the film scene. I can't wait to see what they throw themselves into next.

Copyright ©1997 James Kendrick

Overall Rating: (3.5)

James Kendrick

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