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The Limey (1999)

“The Limey” is a riff on revenge flicks, way more concerned with style than with plot or especially characterization.  We mostly get sketches of the characters: Terrence Stamp plays a Brit gangster, Peter Fonda a wealthy Los Angeles record producer guilty of murdering Stamp’s daughter.  Stamp gets out of prison and hunts down Fonda, mercilessly dispatching the goons that stand in the way.  But Stamp doesn’t just want to kill Fonda, he wants to talk to him.  He needs to know why his daughter died, but he doesn’t get the answer he was expecting.

Aging and fatherhood are running themes running through the film, but there’s not a lot here about any characters’ motivation or interior life.  If you listen to the commentary track (one of the best, most interesting commentary tracks ever recorded for a DVD,) you’ll hear screenwriter Lem Dobbs complain that he had written more fully nuanced characters, but that all got edited out by Steven Soderberg made the movie he wanted to make.  (Soderberg doesn’t so much defend his decisions as suggest Dobbs try directing someday.) Indeed, Soderberg’s direction is all over this pic, and it veers awfully close to being over-directed.  There are split-screen shots, fantasy sequences, non-linear timelines, every trick in the auteur director’s bag comes out.  And probably if it was a more complicated or original plot, it wouldn’t work.  But because it’s so simple — one guy hunting down another — it feels more like a jazzy riff on an old classic, like John Coltrane playing “My Favorite Things.”  Soderberg is both paying tribute to this kind of film, and laughing at it.  “The Limey” is marked by the kind of ironic detachment that was all over everything in the late ’90s, and yet somehow, that makes it a better film instead of a terribly dated one.

Verdict: Recommended

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