The Limey is directed by Steven Soderbergh and written by Lem Dobbs. It stars Terence Stamp, Lesley Ann Warren, Luis Guzman, Barry Newman, Peter Fonda and Nicky Katt. Music is by Cliff Martinez and cinematography by Edward Lachman.
Wilson (Stamp), fresh out of prison, travels to Los Angeles to investigate the death of his estranged daughter Jenny (Melissa George). Aided by a couple of her friends, Wilson's trail leads to the last guy Jenny was dating, oily record producer Terry Valentine (Fonda), a guy with more than record producing on his CV.
Steven Soderbergh picks up on a common film noir theme, that of a man seeking revenge for the death of a friend or loved one, and cloaks it in visual and aural artistry. The story as written is simple, undeniably so, yet the narrative structure spins it into a vortex of complexity and psychological disharmony.
Alongside his editor, Sarah Flack, Soderbergh uses flash-backs and flash-forwards to unfurl the plot. Thus we often get a triplicate viewpoint of a scene, such as what will happen, what the antagonist wants to happen or what might happen! It's dizzying stuff but it serves the emotional thrum of the plot beautifully and draws the viewer firmly into Wilson's state of mind. This is the case with dialogue and sound as well, where a current scene will feature previous or future aural snatches. The director also splices in scenes from Wilson's memory banks to marry up the emotional discord, while also deftly using scenes from Stamp's performance in 1967 film Poor Cow (Ken Loach) to show the youthful Wilson from happier times.
If this all sounds like style over substance? Then it is, but The Limey rises above this issue because elsewhere there's other great rewards. Notably Stamp's performance and the counter-point characterisation by Fonda. Stamp, in full cockney spouting mode is having a great time, he has Wilson as a feral man of vengeance, but with a knowing sense of parody, he also exudes a sorrowful guilt at his inadequacies as a father. Fonda has Valentine as a relic of the sixties, he's regressing and constantly looks back. It's a smooth performance from Fonda, weasel like but never over the top in villain terms, and the fact that Stamp and Fonda are mostly kept apart until the finale really helps the characterisations to thrive. Good support comes from Guzman and Warren, though Newman only just convinces as Valentine's "enforcer".
There's good humour to be found here, intentionally so, something that seems to have thrown some folk into thinking Stamp is going over the top. That isn't the case, though, Wilson is a veteran of prison and wry humour is merely one of his defence mechanisms. One of the great scenes in the film sees Wilson launch into a cockney monologue as a stony faced DEA Agent (Bill Duke looking hard as always) listens without understanding a thing he says! It's also worth pointing out that although the story is average, Lem Dobbs' screenplay does throw in a very good ending, a veer from the norm that closes the picture on a strong note. There's so much good about The Limey that it's a safe recommendation to neo-noir fans and fans of Stamp and Soderbergh. 7.5/10