Bound – And Determined to Become a Cult Noir Classic

boundBound (1996)

Genre: Thriller | Crime
Country: US
Director: Andy and Lana Wachowski
Stars: Jennifer Tilly, Gina Gershon, Joe Pantoliano

Bound is the brilliant directorial debut of Andy and Lana (formerly Larry) Wachowski (The Matrix, V for Vendetta, Cloud Atlas), the writing/directing duo more affectionately known as The Wachowski Brothers, but who are now professionally identified as simply, The Wachowskis. Presented as neo-noir, Bound is a suspenseful thriller that follows the classic noir outline of sex, violence, and betrayal, only with a twist. Our two star-crossed lovers are both…women [gasp]. Holy leaping lesbians Batman! Don’t panic 1966’s Robin. Although lesbian relationships in modern cinema have become quite mainstream, in 1996 this was still pretty taboo.

The story opens with ex-con Corky (Gina Gershon) bound, gagged, and semi-conscious on the floor of a closet. In flashbacks we learn Corky was hired to renovate an empty apartment in an up-scale Chicago building. On her first day of work Corky has a chance encounter in the elevator with the apartment’s next-door neighbors, Violet (Jennifer Tilly) and Caesar (Joe Pantoliano).

We soon learn Caesar launders money for the Mafia (in fact, in one scene he literally has to launder money) and Violet is trapped in a relationship of circumstance. Violet and Corky share an immediate attraction and quickly jump into a sexual relationship. Violet tells Corky she looking for a way out of her structured and oppressing life with Caesar and proposes a heist of over $2 million of the Mafia’s ill-gotten gains. Well, Violet must be the most precious piece of ass on the planet, because Corky agrees and a plan is set in motion. But the previously mentioned tied up and closeted Corky (pun intended), tells us that even the most carefully laid (pun not intended, but still funny) plans can go horribly awry.

Reportedly The Wachowskis had difficulties getting this film made due to the lesbian content of the film. In the late 90’s few actresses were interested in taking on such a role, and several studio executives said they would only consider the script if the character of Corky was changed to a man. The Wachowskis stuck to their guns, stating that movie had been made a million times already. Bravo Wachowskis! Since then Bound has been acclaimed for being one of the first mainstream films to portray a lesbian relationship without homosexuality being essential to the plot.

bound2Jennifer Tilly shines as the seductive and manipulative Violet, while Gina Gershon (admittedly) channels her innermost James Dean to bring the hardened, yet sensitive Corky to life. Their on-screen chemistry is undeniable, and Violet’s initial seduction of Corky will leave you breathless. But the film’s true standout is Joe Pantoliano. His performance of Caesar encompasses the perfect amount of over-the-top delivery expected in true noir. When called upon he’s comical without becoming a caricature, and his overall persona accurately captures the paranoia and panic of a man on the verge of losing everything.

An honorable mention should also go to John Ryan who portrays Micky, Caesar’s mentor and boss. There’s a touching scene where Violet graciously kisses a love struck Micky. He leans in to kiss her again but immediately changes his mind. The gesture is so slight, many viewers may miss it; but that single split second delivers one of the most heartfelt and heartbreaking moments of the film.

For The Wachowskis first film, they had a surprising understanding of how to implement all the film-making tools at their disposal. The film’s sound designer, Dane Davis does a phenomenal job using reverse echoes to draw the audience into scenes, and subtle undertones that define individual personalities. Bill Pope’s cinematography oozes noir through conspicuous character framing and angles, and a mood-setting contrast of lighting. It’s clear The Wachowskis had a full understanding of how sound and visuals should not simply accent a film, but how they can be used in conjunction with the script to express the narrative.

Bound’s neo-noir is proof that the genre, when done right, will never go out of style. With its kitschy characters and quick dialogue, audiences become mesmerized by these dark tales of betrayal and suspense. This film is no exception and is sure to leave you spell-Bound.

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7 responses to “Bound – And Determined to Become a Cult Noir Classic

  1. I watched this two years after it came out, which means I was 14 when I watched it initially. It was basically pornography to a 14-year-old. It wasn’t until years later that I really understood how important it was for the time period, and how interesting from a cinematography standpoint.

    I also, since this was before I had a computer or internet access, had no real way to know what I was in for when my mother came home from the video store with Bound, which she rented because she liked Gina Gershon and it had critical acclaim all over the cover at the video store.

    So yeah. Watching Bound with your mother, father, brother, and sister when you’re 14 years old.

    It was awkward.

    __

    Great review, as usual!

    • I had the same type of experience watching Fast Times At Ridgemont High for the first time with my mother. Just Awful. I’m glad your cinematic maturity and a lack of parental supervision has brought you a better appreciation of the film.

  2. It’s been so long since I’ve seen this one but I remember really liking it – and not just for the boobs 🙂 I remember liking the STYLE of the film, colors and contrast and such. Slow and steady shots. GOOD film-making 🙂 And…

    #boobs

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