Steven Soderbergh’s ‘The Limey’: A crime film with a ‘60s soul and swagger

One of the reasons why I love Steven Soderbergh is because he never makes the same film twice. Every film in his filmography is distinct even though they share some common traits, like stylish camera work, editing, and realistic performances. It’s as if every film of his pays homage to something he had seen and was influenced by in the past.

His 1999 film The Limey is no different. I saw it as an ode to the crime films of the ‘60s; and I feel that if had made it back in then, it probably would’ve turned into a cult classic by now, like John Boorman’s Point Blank. I think it’s quite underappreciated. It has the soul, style, and swagger of a ‘60s film, especially something like Point Blank. At times, it also reminded me of Stephen Frears’ 1984 British film, The Hit.

So what did Soderbergh to achieve that? He took two of ‘60s movie titans, Terrence Stamp and Peter Fonda, one British and the other American, and pitted them against each other. Stamp plays an ex-convict called Wilson who, recently released from prison, sets out to know the truth behind – and possibly avenge – his daughter Jenny’s mysterious death.

He learns that the man who could be responsible for this is one Terry Valentine – a rich L.A music producer whom his daughter had dated before her death. Aiding him is a Mexican played by Luis Guzman, who has privy to information about what may have transpired between Valentine and Jenny. Valentine is surrounded by bodyguards and shady right-hand men who can get things done for him discreetly.

Stamp’s Wilson is a cockney gangster straight out of a ‘60s British gangster film and he often confuses those around him with his slang. Everyone can sense that he is not from the U.S just by looking at him. At one point, he tells Guzman, “I’m gonna ‘ave a ‘butcher’s’ round the house”, and Guzman asks, “Who you gonna butcher?”, and Wilson proceeds to explain to him what it really means. I laughed out loud at Guzman’s question.

There is another funny scene where Bill Duke’s DEA agent tells Wilson with a deadpan look, “There is one thing I don’t understand. The thing I don’t understand is every motherfucking word you’ve just said.” I felt as if I was watching Duke’s character from Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Commando. Soderbergh also brought into this some Elmore Leonard humor from Out of Sight – there’s a foul-mouthed hitman who talks random shit in public places.

Soderbergh plays around quite a bit with time, scattering different segments of a single conversation at different intervals throughout the film while taking more than one sequence from the past and playing them simultaneously with those from the present. By doing so, Soderbergh makes the film look like more than it actually is. He gave Stamp a role that actually respects an actor of his stature. Also, the film doesn’t end the way you expect it to.

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