Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Wachowski brothers' best movie

When The Matrix first came out, most people looked at the poster and said, "V.I. Warshawski is directing a movie about Keanu Reeves playing an android? What's this then?"

Me? I said, "Oh, it's the new movie from the guys who made Bound."

That's still how I see The Matrix -- Larry and Andy Wachowskis' sophomore and slightly inferior follow-up to their brilliant neo-noir thriller, Bound.

What's that you say? The Matrix? Inferior? Whaaa?

You read right. One of the most influential and exciting films of the last 20 years is not as good as this film. That's how good Bound is.

I watched Bound again last night for the first time in at least seven or eight years. In fact, during the day, I had a similar moment of inspirational clarity to the one I had on Monday, when I went to pick up The 13th Warrior. Except I knew this time, the film wouldn't let me down. It wouldn't be less good than I remembered. Bound is as solid as they come, through and through, and I knew it would be just the "special" viewing experience I was looking for on my birthday.

(Yesterday was my birthday. Let's all stop and make a big deal out of me turning 36. Then again, let's not. If it gives you some idea what I think of celebrating my birthday in some grandiose fashion, I was looking forward to a quiet night with a movie. Then again, if my wife were in town, I'm sure we would have at least gone out to eat.)

Any serious fan of The Matrix should have already gone back and watched Bound, even though it's a totally different kind of film. It's like going back and checking out the early works of a band you love -- sometimes you find out that the earlier stuff was even better.

But I think the reason more people haven't discovered Bound is that it's easy to dismiss it as some kind of Cinemax erotic thriller. The title itself suggests sadomasochism, and the poster does nothing to discourage that idea. Plus, discovering that the two leads are lesbians (Jennifer Tilly's character is actually bisexual) pushes a person even further toward the conclusion that the film exists primarily to titillate.

The truth of the matter is, there are actual physical binds (ropes) that exist in this movie, but they are not used sexually. Rather, Bound as a title has more to do with the trust that must exist in order to successfully execute a criminal plan -- as well as the fact that people become unwittingly bound to each other as the plan adapts to real-world changes, even though they may enter the plan as adversaries. The title is a one-word summation of the script's dozens of smart ideas about trust, deception, desperation, obligation, the criminal code, and ultimately, love. It could be honor-Bound or duty-Bound or love-Bound. Or simply Bound for trouble.

Oh, and if you are interested in being titillated, there are two hot lesbian sex scenes that are not very graphic, but are quite sexy indeed because of how the Wachowskis set up the camera, the dialogue they use, and the tension they create.

So what is Bound about, exactly? I won't tell you too much, because that would spoil the fun. But it's useful to know that Gina Gershon plays Corky, a lesbian ex-con just released from five years in prison for theft. She's been hired to do a big renovation job in the apartment next door to where Violet (Jennifer Tilly) and Caesar (Joe Pantoliano) live. Violet is the arm candy for Caesar's mafiaso money launderer, but she longs to get out, and sees a path to her freedom in the tatooed handywoman working next door. She knows when there will be $2 million in her apartment that will be ripe for stealing -- as long as they can hatch the perfect plan that will cast suspicion on someone else. But when the money gets drenched in blood from an impulsive whacking, the plan must adapt -- or else they'll be caught. And the mob doesn't look too kindly on those who try to screw them over.

What I love so much about Bound is how clean and tight it is. I won't say it's simple -- in fact, some of the chess moves that are Bound's essence rely on thinking three, four, five steps ahead, and truly illustrate the characters' intelligence. However, the twists and turns themselves are simple to follow, always believable, and organic to the action. In fact, so clean is Bound -- taking place almost entirely in the two apartments -- that I could easily see it staged as a play. The only thing you would lose is the Wachowskis' camera work and unobtrusive visual pizzazz, which would become their signature in the Matrix trilogy. Because accolades tend to flow when talking about a movie I love, I'll continue: The dialogue is also sharp and clever, but totally naturalistic. And I'd be remiss in this short capsule review if I didn't point out that this is by far the best work Joe Pantoliano -- a.k.a. Joey Pants -- has ever turned in. Gershon and Tilly are also great, but Pantoliano's Caesar is the far more ostentatious -- and at times, downright hilarious -- role.

One more credit to Bound: The fact that it was a cheap-o press on the DVD didn't affect my enjoyment one bit. The image appeared in the correct aspect ratio, but was boxed on all four sides by blackness, reducing its total size on the screen by a third. That might have been resolved with an adjustment on my DVD player, but let's just say no other DVDs I've popped in have required such an adjustment. I also needed to significantly brighten the image, as contrasts were getting lost in the darkness. ("Fuckin' dark in here!" to quote Caesar early on in the movie.) What's more -- and I found this the most astonishing -- the actual title screen on the DVD was generic. Not even the title of the movie appeared -- just the choices (chapters, setup, etc.) and a generic background used by the company that pressed the DVD.

Gives you some idea just how undiscovered Bound really is. If there's any justice, a Criterion Collection edition will be forthcoming at some point in the future. But just as extra frills can't make a bad movie good, Bound would be a good movie even if you watched it on a 10-inch black and white TV.

There's little doubt that Bound is better than The Matrix Reloaded, The Matrix Revolutions and Speed Racer. The film the Wachowskis wrote (Assassins) and the film they produced and wrote (V for Vendetta) also figure to be losers in this head-to-head duel. And I don't really know about this Ninja Assassin they're producing, which comes out later this fall, but it doesn't seem that original. Plus, it's got a crap title.

But is Bound better than The Matrix?

You know what I think. I challenge you to rent it for yourself and find out ...

No comments: