California Literary Review

100 Greatest Gangster Films: Bound, #95

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January 5th, 2012 at 12:05 am

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Movie Still: Bound

Jennifer Tilly and Joe Pantoliano star in Bound. (1996-R)

Bound is distinct from the 99 other movies on this list.

For starters, it’s the only one featuring lesbian lovers as protagonists. The two gorgeous actresses—Gina Gershon and Jennifer Tilly—wrestle around in several graphic scenes, one of which is regarded among the steamiest ever put on film.

Still with us? We figured so.

For another, Bound is tough to categorize. It’s a gangster movie, for sure, and an erotic movie. It’s also evocative of the classic noir films. And, at times, actor Joe Pantoliano’s buffoonish performance makes it a flat-out comedy.

Bottom line, it’s an original and entertaining film. Certainly worth your while if you like a little sex with your violence.

Gershon plays an ex-con named Corky who has just completed a five-year stretch for “redistribution of wealth.” She takes a job as a Ms. Fix-It in an apartment building controlled by the mob, allowing her to walk around with a tool belt. This immediately arouses the lust of next-door neighbor Violet (Tilly), the kept woman of mobster Caesar (Pantoliano). Violet, who appears to live her life in a negligee, asks the handywoman over to clean out her pipes. This occurs in more ways than one. (Violet’s hook-up line: “I have a tattoo. Would you like to see it?”)

The two women watch as Caesar has to launder—literally—$2 million in blood-soaked bills recaptured from a rat who embezzled from the family. Caesar washes, irons and carefully hangs the money to dry. The man would make a great domestic.

Caesar is supposed to return the $2 million to his capo, but the women contrive a scheme to steal it from him, skip town and set the nasty Caesar up for the fall. Of course, as soon as they gain possession, their plan unravels. Bodies begin to fall and snap decisions must be made to deal with new exigencies. The cops show up and miss the evidence right in front of them. And Corky and Violet have to grapple with one of the film’s underlying themes—whether the bedroom buddies can actually trust each other.

There’s nothing worth taking too seriously in Bound, but it is a lot of fun. Pantoliano overplays his character as sort of a Joe Pesci caricature, which makes it easy to root for the two women. Watch for the scene where he confronts rival gangster Johnny, whom he believes stole his money, in front of the mob boss. You know that someone’s going to die here, and the scene is masterfully played with a mixture of malice and humor.

We’ve admired “Joey Pants” from the time we first spotted him as Guido in Risky Business back in 1983. He deserves the kind of leading-man break that Steve Buscemi got in 2010 in HBO’s Boardwalk Empire.

Tilly and Gershon, meanwhile, are smoldering, even if they’re playing stereotypes. Tilly is the lipstick lesbian—all legs and little-girl voice—who gets hit on by every single character in the movie. Gershon wraps herself in leather and an Elvis sneer. She drives a 1960s truck and knows how to fine tune the engine. She’s both sexy and intimidating.

Since its release in 1996, Bound has become an iconic film in the gay community. We agree with San Francisco Chronicle critic Barry Walters, who wrote, “Bound is a fascinating hybrid—Playboy Channel thriller meets feminist lesbian love story. Without pandering, it attempts to get just about everybody off.”

For all of its twists and double-crosses, Bound never gets overly confusing. And while the ending may be predictable, it’s up to snuff with most of the rip-off-the-mob movies we’ve seen. If you like a gangster film sprinkled with laughs, sex and violence, you’ll enjoy this one.

HIT: This is an attractively shot movie, and not just because of its stars. Kudos to chief cinematographer Bill Pope.

MISS: There are a half-dozen mob characters in the movie, each of whom seems to have an IQ under 40. How could the underworld succeed if everyone in it is so dumb?

WHAT THEY WROTE AT THE TIME: “Jennifer Tilly, with her oriental eyes, Monroe voice, purple lipstick and sheath dresses, is a perfect modern equivalent for the man-traps who used to be played by Barbara Stanwyck, Jane Greer or Jean Simmons. The radical stroke of Bound, however, is that the part that would have once gone to Robert Mitchum is here taken by Gina Gershon. Tattooed, leather-jacketed and smiling crookedly, Gershon may be the first unapologetically gay lead in what is essentially a commercial thriller rather than niche market arthouse erotica.”—Kim Newman, Empire

GOOF: In the early fixing-the-sink scene with Violet and Corky, Violet’s shapely legs shift from wearing black hosiery to no stockings, then back to black again.

DON’T FAIL TO NOTICE: Joe Pantoliano’s apparent Humphrey Bogart imitation at certain points in the movie. That’s because the directors told him to watch The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and base his character on Bogey’s Fred C. Dobbs.

PIVOTAL SCENE: Well, it’s the legendary encounter that occurs 12 minutes into the movie, bringing together the two heroines. The scene was choreographed by sexuality author Susie Bright (a.k.a. “Susie Sexpert”) and, well, it sure seems a lot more realistic than most sex scenes we’ve seen on celluloid.

“We had a great time doing that,” Gershon told the website AfterEllen.com. “We laughed a lot. That was our biggest problem. As soon as I met Jennifer, I thought, ‘Okay, this will work,’ because we had a chemistry. We ended up with a kind of sisterly love for one another, which made the love scenes easier.”

VIOLENCE LEVEL: Over-the-top. One poor sap being questioned by mobsters gets his head repeatedly banged against the toilet. When that doesn’t yield information, they start clipping off his fingers, one at a time, with a tree pruner.

BET YOU DIDN’T KNOW: The movie is directed by brothers Andy and Larry Wachowski, who also wrote and produced the three Matrix movies and V for Vendetta. In 2006, Larry Wachowski left his wife of 15 years and took up with a dominatrix. In 2009, he changed his name to Lana and started living as a woman.

BEST LINE: Corky on the excitement of the heist: “Stealing has always been a lot like sex. Two people want the same thing. They get in a room, they talk about it. They start to plan—it’s kind of like flirting. It’s kind of like foreplay because the more they talk about it, the wetter they get.”

“I KNOW THAT GUY”: Johnnie Marzzone, the dopey and brutal son of a mob chieftain, is played by Christopher Meloni. For 12 seasons through 2011, Meloni played Detective Elliot Stabler on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.

IF YOU LIKED THIS, YOU’LL LIKE: Sex and Fury, a 1973 Japanese effort about a female gambler and pickpocket (Reiko Ike) who runs afoul of the Yakuza and is aided by a voluptuous and often naked Swedish spy (Christina Lindberg).

BODY COUNT: Four.

***

Join us as we count down the greatest gangster movies of all time — a new entry every Thursday! Click here to see what you’ve missed so far.

[Reprinted from The Ultimate Book of Gangster Movies by George Anastasia and Glen Macnow. Available from Running Press, a member of The Perseus Books Group. Copyright © 2011.]

The Ultimate Book of Gangster Movies

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