The Limey (1999)
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Writer: Lem Dobbs
Stars: Terence Stamp, Peter Fonda and Lesley Ann Warren
Terrence Stamp was a handsome man. No wonder Passolini hired him to play the allegorical God/Satan who seduces a family in Theorema, he was asked to play the lead in Alfie, which made Michale Caine a star.
Even in his old age, he makes a handsome picture, with a taut face and piercing blue eyes. He is the star of The Limey, and he is the one reason why the film works. There are shots of Stamp walking in the vast, empty spaces in Los Angeles, and Steven Soderbergh’s camera gawks at Stamp’s lithe figure. You get the drift.
Plot-wise, The Limey is not much, but as cinema, it’s engrossing, to say the least, and that’s because of Stamp, and of course, Peter Fonda. It’s surpising how, in youth-obsessed Hollywood, Soderbergh gets two once-a-hero-now-a-character-actor actors and pit them against each other to get a smouldering picture. This is why his is Soderbergh, the blue-eyed boy of the independent cinema scene in the US, who single-handedly made independent cinema look cool. One thing that goes in favour of Soderbergh is that he is not scared to experiment. Here there are experimentation at many levels, and at most levels, it pay off, and even if it doesn’t, it’s an altogether new experience — Like the ending of the film; I was not convinced, yet it did not stop me from enjoying the film.
The first risk Soderbergh takes is picking up two actors as nemesis, actors who come with their baggage, and Soderbergh is not scared to play their baggage as their strength. You mention Peter Fonda and what you remember is Easy Rider; he cannot be anything else. Here, he plays Wyatt growing old. He is a music mogul, who needs money to maintain his lifestyle, but money is hard to come by unless you deal with the drug dealers, and Terry Valentine will do anything to maintain his image, and to sleep with girls younger to be his daughter. One of these girls happen to be Jenny, daughter of a British criminal. Now, Jenny is dead and Wilson, who has just been released from the jail, travels to LA to find out what happened his baby girl. Stamp’s Willson is The Limey of the title, an American slang that refers to the British. Talking about slangs, Wilson has an entire dictionary of it, and uses it generously, as one character asks in bafflement to another, whether she understand what Wilson says. They may not understand what Wilson says, but they can fathom what Wilson wants — revenge. He gets his revenge, but that’s not the point, the point is how the film plays to reach to that final act.
The film is told in flashback, which we don’t realise till the very end. Soderbergh and his editor employ dramatic editing methods where the early scenes are jumbled, and at times repetitive. At times, voiceover from one scene intrudes the introspection of another. All these till we warm up to Wilson. Later, it’s a straight-forward story, as he issues a threat — “Tell him, I am coming.”
You don’t see The Limey for the plot, but for its inventiveness. And, one of the major invention of the film is the flashback sequences, telling the youth of the Terence Stamp character. Instead of hiring a young actor to play the role, Soderbergh does a fantastic things, he takes an original Stamp film, and collects a few scenes and pass it off as Wilson’s past — ingenious. The film in question Ken Loach’s 1967 directorial debut Poor Cow.
In the heart of The Limey is a private joke, between the father and daughter. It’s sad, twisted and ironic when the girl runs away from her father to fall in love with an older man (father fixation!), and plays the same joke, and gets herself killed because of it. The film does not show us Jenny, except for a brief image of a young girl, timid and apprehensive, looking for love. Here Jenny comes alive from Wilson’s memories, and that’s the reason why he fails in his mission to kill his daughter’s killer, for, at the end, Wilson realises it was he who was responsible for the death of his daughter, not Terry Valentine. Terry Valentine did not understand the joke, he did not know what Jenny wanted, but Wilson did, but could not help her.