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"Bound" Review

 The Wachowskis - formerly brothers Andy and Larry, now sisters Lily and Lana - will forever be known as "the visionary creators of The Matrix" upon which they have coasted on for two decades through the overstuffed and undercooked sequels and ever-declining levels of commercial and critical success with movies that either exist as bloated spectacles (e.g. Matrix sequels, Jupiter Ascending, Speed Racer) or oddball experiments (e.g. Cloud Atlas) or genderqueer wanks (Netflix's Sense8, whose second season I skipped). 

But mostly forgotten for some reason is their directorial debut (and only second produced screenplay, after Assassins), the 1996 lesbian-Mafia crime thriller Bound. Nothing about it other than one cast member remotely resembles anything they've done since and, frankly, considering how outlandishly overblown their post-Matrix movies have been, perhaps they should get back to basics. Bound is as stripped down a noirish chamber drama can get, yet has one of the most audacious bait-and-switch moves a movie has done while in progress. (Not as drastic as From Dusk Til Dawn where the first half was a crime drama and the back end was a bonkers vampire movie, but still...) 

 It opens with ex-con Corky (Gina Gershon, following up her breakthrough in Showgirls the previous year) arriving at her new job renovating a condo in an old Chicago building. Riding the elevator are Violet (Jennifer Tilly) and her Mafia soldier boyfriend Caesar (Joe Pantoliano) who live in the adjoining unit, whose thin walls allow the sounds of sex (and eventually violence) to penetrate. 

Violet comes over to introduce herself and flirt with Corky, but the latter has heard her and Caesar having sex, so is leery of what may be a tourist. Violet pursues Corky - hard - and it's not long before they're going at it in rather steamy scenes considering it was a quarter century ago. For a movie that was sold as a sexually explicit lesbian movie, it really delivers the goods right up front and doesn't bother teasing the audience.

 But after the "good stuff" in the first 20 minutes comes the rest of the movie: A tight caper story where the girls conspire to steal $2 million in literally laundered money. After beating and torturing a Mob guy suspected of skimming from the Mob in his apartment, Caesar comes home later covered in blood with a large bag filled with blood-soaked money. After retrieving the skimmed cash, the Mob boss's son, Johnny (Christopher Meloni), whacked the guy and it's up to Caesar to clean the currency in preparation of the father, Gino (Richard C. Sarafian), to fly in and pick up the case. Corky and Violet plot a way to get the cash and flee together and hijinks ensue.

While there are a few convenient plot lapses and people being a bit too dumb in order to keep the plot's wheels turning, the Wachowski's script overall is lean and mean, setting things up and paying them off smartly. Their direction is also stylish without being self-indulgent or distracting. 

With her pneumatic figure and baby doll voice, Tilly has generally been thought of as a less than serious actress despite garnering a previous Oscar nomination for Bullets Over Broadway, but she's a seductive gun moll who clearly has the boys (and girl) under her spell. Gershon is sizzling with her butch sneer who both wants to get laid, but also not be some dame's patsy. While a straight actress (not that there's anything wrong with that), she garnered a large lesbian fan base here, many of whom turned up at her promo concerts for 2003's Prey For Rock & Roll as documented in the series Rocked with Gina Gershon

Lost in the glare of their Matrix fame, Bound is almost a trivia question at this point and it shouldn't be. There was a time when compact dramas were viable before everything became $200M VFX extravaganzas - especially in the 1990s when Sundance darlings like Clerks, Reservoir Dogs, Sex, Lies and Videotape were hitting - and Bound is a very good movie on its terms. Come for the cheap thrills, stay for the thriller.

There apparently isn't a very well-mastered Blu-ray of it yet (paging Criterion Collection...) and I didn't want to watch my DVD (gag), so I went with Amazon Prime's version and it looked OK, though had some bad compression artifacts in dark areas in spots, which considering the noirish cinematography by Bill Pope happened several times.

Score: 8.5/10. Catch it on cable. (Currently on Amazon Prime and Hulu.)


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