An ex-con, fresh out of prison, goes to L.A. to try to learn who murdered his daughter. However, he quickly finds that he is completely out of place with no understanding of the culture he finds. His investigations are helped by another ex-con. Together they learn that his daughter had been having an affair with a record producer, who is presently having an affair with another young woman. An aging actress, who also knew his daughter, forces him to look at his own failures as a father. The movie does focus on the drama of the situation and the inter-relationships of the characters and seldom slips into an action piece. Written by
John Sacksteder <firstname.lastname@example.org>
[looking at view]
Yeah, if you can afford a house like this you buy a house like this, you know?
[peering over railing]
What are we standing on?
You know, you could see the sea out there, if you could see it.
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Somewhere between Out of Sight and the hype of the Erin Brockovich/Traffic double-punch, Soderbergh made this diamond of a film. Terence Stamp is the gem at the centre of it, his beautiful face, always a cinematic treasure, a virtual masterclass in film acting. How this performance went ignored is beyond me but maybe that punishment is fitting for the career criminal he plays.
He is Wilson who after finishing a nine-year sentence "at her Majesty's leisure" goes to L.A. to discover how his daugher, Jenny, met her end while he was in the big house and to avenge her death. Peter Fonda plays her former lover, a wicked, soulless record producer who was big in the sixties and both actors trade on the ghosts of their cinematic pasts to striking effect; particularly Stamp, as footage from his 1967 film, Poor Cow (directed by Ken Loach), is repurposed and edited into the film's ever-shifting timescape. (It is a credit to Soderbergh that he would dare to use another filmmaker's footage and make it so central to his own, even using Loach's footage for his closing shots. In Soderbergh's hands it shows that he is first and foremost a storyteller instead of a shallow egotist and it plays like a grand, cinematic homage to his star.)
Soderbergh shuffles time and Wilson's life like a deck of cards yet always keeps the story moving forward--the editing by Sarah Flak is a marvel. It's a lovely, startling effect; rather than weigh the narrative down with a number of plodding, onerous details, this style keeps the thing as light as a souffle yet full of implications as we imagine the ways and necessities of Wilson telling and retelling, hashing over his life, representing and misrepresenting his actions or inaction. These are the lies he tells himself, the truth he can live with. It's completely engaging and frees the viewer to imagine the surrounding details and circumstances however they like. He certainly couldn't have done it with anyone but Stamp, who is solid throughout; his stillness and his beautiful blue, crystalline eyes like placid pools of water that mask a depth of feeling and a lifetime of regret. That we empathise with an ignoble savage like Wilson at all is purely down to Stamp's controlled, unsentimental performance. Stamp's Wilson doesn't make apologies. Terence Stamp is iconic precisely because of the films he chose to make, particularly after Schlesinger's Far From The Madding Crowd when he could've done anything but went to work with Loach, Pasolini and Fellini instead. Like his co-star Fonda, who also spent many years in the wilderness, Stamp's performance in The Limey stands as a long-promised return to form, which he'd been hinting at for years.
There's great support from Luis Guzman, Lesley Ann Warren (as an L.A. acting coach, who suggests in her few short scenes with Stamp a potentially epic romance), Barry Newman as Fonda's henchman and the startlingly fresh Amelia Henle who shows that, yes, there is an art to playing "the girlfriend." (Joe Dallesandro is in there somewhere as well in some capacity but is completely unrecognisable.) If the slight bit in the middle lacks the polish of the beginning and the end (it appears a large subplot about two hitmen must've been jettisoned in the editing room), the dialogue still crackles throughout, with Stamp--as a one-man amalgam of London's east end--throwing off Cockney rhyming slang ("China" "plates" thus "mates") and reminding us of what made London swing in the '60's. Very stylish, Soderbergh's control of the emotional depth of the story is impressive, as is the acting--as always in his films. Deserves a much wider audience.
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