Republic // 1996 // 109 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Judge Nicholas Sylvain (Retired) // September 11th, 1999
For money. For murder. For each other.
A modern film noir mix of lust, loot, and betrayal done on a small budget, Bound will have you on the edge of your seat until the very end.
This is one of those smaller films that you may have missed, as it seems to have garnered most of its publicity on the strength of its notoriety. I refer, of course, to its status as "lesbian" film noir, with not merely an attraction between two women but in fact a (at times) quite steamy sexual relationship. In a way, this is a shame, because it overshadowed a very tightly written, gripping, and almost claustrophobic criminal caper, where the relationship between Corky and Violet is merely the catalyst that holds the whole crime caper together. It is this often hidden excellence that rated it a spot on the Verdict's Underappreciated DVDs list.
The story begins in a slightly gloomy, slightly spooky apartment building, probably somewhere in New York. Corky (Gina Gershon) is a professional thief, who is passing the time renovating an apartment upon her recent release from prison. Next door lives mob lieutenant Caesar (Joe Pantoliano) and his doll girlfriend Violet (Jennifer Tilly). From their very first meeting as silent strangers in an elevator, the slowly simmering attraction between Corky and Violet is quite palpable, and as time goes on Violet's coincidental visits lose their subtlety. A ring dropped down a sink by "accident" leads to quite the passionate encounter interrupted by Caesar's return home.
True love, or at least lust, will not be denied for long, as Corky and Violet soon consummate their desire. Their relationship continues to flourish, until Corky observes an ominous collection of mobsters, led by young muscle Johnnie Marzzone (Christopher Meloni) and leader Micky Malnato (John P. Ryan) involuntarily escorting a mournful Shelly (Barry Kivel) to a very painful meeting in Caesar's apartment. Shelly has apparently been skimming from the mob's business and has hidden away two million dollars, a decision that he painfully regrets. The violence so shakes Violet that she decides to seek a new life for herself, but she will need Corky's help to steal the two million dollars to make it happen.
Once Caesar recovers the money, he finds it necessary to literally launder it. While he is washing and ironing the stacks upon stacks of $100 bills, Violet and Corky begin their plan in earnest. The plan depends on timing, stealth, and intimate knowledge of the psychology of all involved, all designed to leave Violet and Corky in the clear and pin the blame on Caesar. The careful plan begins to go awry when Caesar does not act as anticipated. Thinking that his enemy Johnnie Marzzone switched the money, Caesar begins to plot on his own, even as he sits down to a meeting with Johnnie and his father Gino Marzzone (Richard C. Sarafian) where Caesar is supposed to turn over the money. The bloody aftermath of the meeting leaves Caesar standing and insistent on still trying to find the money while Violet stands by, horrified but unable to escape the situation. Meanwhile, Corky hears all of this through the thin walls but finds herself similarly frustrated.
Before he can find the money, Caesar has to frantically hide the signs of combat and death long enough to fool two Chicago beat cops that the gunfire was a misunderstanding. A second after they leave, Caesar drags Violent along with him in a vain attempt to find they money in a ransacking of Johnnie's apartment. Caesar is so sure that the money was stolen from him by a business associate that he sets up a meeting with Micky Malnato, thinking that he might have the money instead of Johnnie. Violet is so freaked out at Caesar's downward spiral that he calls Corky for some comfort, but this weakness blows Corky and Violet's mutual cover. Caesar pounces on Corky and furiously begins to interrogate the pair, interrupted at the moment of torture by the appearance of Micky and friend.
Stashing an abused Corky in a closet, Caesar threatens Violent into helping him pretend for Micky that everything is normal. Playing along, Violet briefly (and quite cleverly) forces Caesar to agree to split the loot, but he reneges on the deal just as soon as Mickey is convinced to leave. Corky races to free herself, while Caesar chases after the bolting Violet. Matters proceed very quickly to the final confrontation, where Caesar learns that he really never knew just who Violet was. The money remains stolen, Mickey is none the wiser (being totally smitten himself with Violet's charms), and love lives happily ever after.
One of the primary charms of Bound is that it has an intimate, almost theatre feeling to it, as most of the activity occurs within the two adjacent apartments and with about a baker's dozen of actors and actresses. Compared to your average movie, that's a small amount of real estate and a teensy cast. What it does is allow us an extended chance to really get to know the central characters and study their smallest of actions without being rushed or distracted. Gina Gershon is totally convincing as a tough, ex-con lesbian thief with a sneer that can kill, and Joe Pantoliano transitions well from the level-headed Caesar to the frantic yet cunning Caesar. Jennifer Tilly is probably as good here as she can get, which ranges from the tolerable to the quite good. If only she could deliver her lines in less breathy fashion, I think she'd get a major credibility boost. John P. Ryan, though with a smaller part, is so intensely compelling that he basically steals all the scenes he's in.
Christopher Meloni (having done excellent work on the critically acclaimed HBO series Oz and the late lamented NBC show Homicide: Life on the Street) chews a little scenery as the cocky, vicious (yet funny) mobster that Caesar despises.
The audio is up to standards despite this being a dialogue, understated film noir sort of movie. I did have to turn up the volume more than usual to hear the dialogue, but once there the dialogue is clear and understandable. Channel separation is distinct and handled with appropriate effects. While there are no car crashes or huge explosions, your subwoofer does get frequent chances to provide bass punch to the sound effects and score as well as the smattering of gunfire.
The video is disappointing, given what I know about the capabilities of the format. There is a fair amount of video noise in most scenes, on top of a picture that is moderately soft but mostly free of dirt and defects. Flesh-tones are appropriate and the blacks are solid, but the predominance of lower-lit scenes reinforces the lack of shadow detail throughout the film. This is a very dark transfer, and I had to fiddle with my brightness and contrast to get an acceptable picture (before returning to my calibrated normal settings). Colors are moderately saturated, given the limited color palette and general look of the film. Somewhat surprising for a non-anamorphic transfer is the lack of the ringing or shimmering usually created by digital enhancement in the DVD authoring process.
Extras are on the light side, though this is a two-year old release from a company without a significant DVD presence (only 13 titles so far). There is a commentary track with the insights of co-writers/co-directors Andy and Larry Wachowski, film editor Zach Staenberg, Jennifer Tilly, Gina Gershon, Joe Pantoliano, and unconventional(!) sex consultant Susie Bright, as well as a good quality but full frame (ick) original theatrical trailer. I also can confirm that about 52 minutes into the commentary track there is a drop out for a short period, which appears to be a fault in the DVD master and not in my particular disc. The menus are bland and non-specific, and I dislike the Alpha keepcase here almost as much as I dislike the snapper case.
A small scale film noir with an offbeat twist, Bound is well worth your time as a rental or reasonably priced ($25) purchase.
The film is acquitted, but Republic Pictures is placed on probation and ordered to attend DVD Authoring School.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
Running Time: 109 Minutes
Release Year: 1996
MPAA Rating: Unrated
* Commentary Track