Starring: Jennifer Tilly, Gina Gershon, Joe Pantoliano, Christopher Meloni, John Ryan
The version being reviewed is unrated. For the record, the theatrical cut is rated R for Strong Sexuality, Violence and Language
A good caper will come up with an ingenious plot and call it a day. A great one will know that that's not enough. You have to come up with a plot that seems perfect, and then watch it go wrong in ways you don't expect. "Bound" fits into the latter category. That it has time for strong writing and acting makes it something of a miracle.
Corky (Gershon) is a lesbian ex-con who has just moved into a condo next to a sultry raven-haired beauty named Violet (Tilly). Violet's lover is Caesar (Pantoliano), who launders money for the local mob. But Violet is unhappy, both sexually and personally, and when she sees Corky in the elevator, she sees hope for a way out. It just so happens that a local mob flunkie tried to abscond with $2 million plus, and the punishment ended up being a bloody mess. Caesar has been tasked with (literally) laundering the money. And therein lies an opportunity for Corky and Violet to get away with the money and leave the weasel Caesar to take the fall for it.
From an execution perspective, "Bound" is a near-brilliant piece of film noir. Corky's plan is ingenious, but that's just the set-up. Caesar is smart, and acts in ways that neither Corky nor Violet anticipate, which leads to a lot of tense moments and improvising. There were plenty of times where I had no idea what to expect. Other times, I thought I knew what was going to happen but was proven wrong.
On a technical level, the film matches its plot. The Wachowski sisters, who at the time were still male, have a visual flair (as they proved with their most famous, and successful, franchise, "The Matrix"). They know that camera movement and plot rhythm are essential in a movie like this, and some of their shots are stunning. The majority of the film takes place in two apartments, but they make this film into a claustrophobic yet still kinetic experience. The film is flawlessly paced, which is one of the main reasons why this movie works so well. The sisters start out slow and allow the tension to build. Far too many thrillers lack that confidence.
For this movie to work, the actors have to sell their characters, and they do. Jennifer Tilly and Gina Gershon, both of whom deserve far more fame than they get, are excellent in their roles. Tilly with her helium voice flouts the dim-bulb girlfriend that Violet initially appears to be. When she seduces Corky with enough speed and elegance to surprise us, we know that she's a force to be reckoned with. For her part, Gershon also escapes the stereotype that she starts out as. Corky may be a bad to the bone butch lesbian, but she's also smart and clever. The two have a lot of chemistry together; so much so that their sex scene is red hot, despite the fact that it happens only a few minutes after their first interaction together. Able support is provided by veteran character actor Joe Pantoliano (whom the Wachowskis would infamously cast in "The Matrix") and Christopher Meloni. Meloni, best known for playing Det. Elliot Stabler on "Law and Order: SVU," is an interesting case. He's quite good as the psychotic son of the Don. His background is mainly in comedy, and he has little trouble tweaking it for a menacing effect.
One thing I appreciated is that even in 1996, the Wachowski sisters refuse to make the fact that the two lead characters are lesbians into any sort of a big deal. Many films that deal with LGBT characters, even the better ones, feel as if they have to comment on it or justify it. Not here. That they are lesbians simply makes them stick out in our minds more. Make Corky (or even Violet...which would be interesting in its own right) into a man and almost nothing would change.
Heist movies and film noir are not uncommon territory for the movies. Movies that combine both in such a spectacular fashion are. And that's why I highly recommend "Bound."