Back before they were the directors of The Matrix and when Lana was known as Larry, The Wachowskis took the indie film world by storm with the stylish neo-noir Bound. Now the film has come to Blu-ray with a crisp HD print, which is perhaps a little duller than you might hope for a film where splashes of vivid colour are so important, but stills looks extremely good.
Corky (Gina Gershon) is an ex-con working as a handyman in an apartment when she meets the next door neighbours, the Mafia-linked Caesar (Joe Pantoliano) and his girlfriend Violet (Jennifer Tilly). The two women become lovers and hatch a plan to steal $2 million of the mob’s money that Caesar has in their possession. While they think they have everything planned out, the scheme starts to go awry when Caesar doesn’t act as expected.
It’s tense, sometimes funny, sexy and endlessly stylish. It’s also a great slice of neo-noir and particularly fascinating to watch now, as you can see the first hints of The Matrix’s bullet-time, with the Wachowskis playing with time in ways that directly echo their later movie but on a much lower budget.
The Wachowskis obviously know their noir movies (which is again something they showed in The Matrix), with a similar if more self-consciously stylised way of filming things, which helps draw you into its world of moral grey areas, where the good guys might actually be as bad as the bad guys. Indeed it’s interesting in the special features where the composer talks about how he saw Caesar as a somewhat sympathetic character (something many have suggested since), but the Wachowskis disagreed, as to them he was a villain.
There’s also the film’s much talked about lesbian side. It’s an interesting movie in that regard as for every person who’s held it up as a great example of bringing homosexuality into films as a natural extension of the story and showing genuine erotic chemistry between women, there’s been another who’s found it to be an example of adding lesbianism into a film unnecessarily for the appeal of male eyes, and to give the movie an extra marketing hook.
You can see both sides, which is partly structural – Gina Gershon’s character disappears for a huge stretch of the running time, so you can understand why some might feel she was just added for the lesbian sex scenes – but it also demonstrates one of the biggest hurdles to getting LGBT people into movies. In Bound the women don’t ‘have’ to be LGBT, they just are. However the usual (if annoying) rules of the movies state that if a gay or bisexual person shows up, there needs to be a point to the fact they aren’t straight. As a result, people are looking to why these woman are having a relationship, and because there’s no definitive reason – other than they like one another (although there is the suggestion Tilly may be using Gershon, but if she is, she could just as easily be using a man) – many see it as evidence that it’s either tokenism or just to lure in horny men.
There are often calls for more LGBT characters in films or TV shows, but so often if characters are included who just happen to be queer, people see it as ‘pointless’ or attach a negative reason to it based on what happens to that character, whether the same thing could have happened to a straight character or not.
To be honest I’m never sure with Bound, as while I don’t doubt the Wachowskis sincerity, there is an edge that the glossy lesbian sex scenes are more for male eyes than purely to show the intensity of the women’s relationship. It doesn’t help that traditionally in film noir, a hint of lesbianism in a femme fatale was evidence of how damaged and dangerous she was, and how she was the ultimate threat to the power of men.
Even so, it could be a lot worse and the film does ensure that these are two women who genuinely feel like they could have embarked on a relationship (rather than Hollywood’s tendency for two women who look like they just fell out of a Barbie box to get it on, while assuring the audience that really they prefer guys). And it remains one of the few examples of a movie where both of the protagonists in a mainstream thriller are women in a lesbian relationship with one another.
This new Blu-ray edition also includes a great selection of special features, quite a few of which include discussion of the film’s sexuality and the intention behind it, as well as looks at how they created the movie’s impressive visual style on such a small budget.
Overall Verdict: A very entertaining neo-noir caper where you can see the beginnings of The Matrix. The lesbian side may still be somewhat contentious, but it works.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac