Movies I Love: Bound

The first twenty minutes of Bound, the feature film debut from The Matrix's Andy and Larry (Lana) Wachowski, is little more than visceral sexual energy, a pressure valve that needs to be emptied between two bottled-up women. It can be felt stirring between them at the center of this neo-noir suspense thriller: Corky (Gina Gershon, Face/Off), an ex-con doing odds-'n-ends repair work at a mob-owned apartment, willingly falls under the calculating spell of Violet (Jennifer Tilly, Monsters, Inc.), the sultry arm-candy of the crime boss living next door. Other things occur in those twenty minutes, from learning about Caesar (Joe Pantoliano, Memento), that volatile crime boss, to building awareness of the two apartments' spacious geography, and they're important; but one's concentration can't be broken from the gut-churning dance between these two windswept, electric souls. Those periphery details are sponged up around Violet's sauntering, Corky's temptation, and the climax that erupts between them -- and Bound unveils its true form once the spell breaks (and the audience is hooked), where deception and desperation emerge from what's learned around their seduction.

Style, a captivating visual energy, furthers that seduction into the world that The Wachowskis designed with their livewire of a story, where the filmmakers want to seduce their audience into a lavish, hazardous environment full of intuition and second-guessing. They do so with raw images that provoke the senses: the twisting of pipes under a sink that emphasizes water cascading over Corky's hands, while the camera's field of vision caresses weathered hands, hemlines of dresses, and piercing glances that say much more than the words coming from the characters' mouths. Operating on a meager budget, Bound adorns its limited environments with moody curiosities that accentuate the film-noir demeanor it's after, where the stillness in the air of dimly-lit, chic condos is interrupted only by breathing, impassioned whisper-talking, and decidedly '50s-esque piano bar riffs. It's an extremely sensual movie from the start, where its richness intuitively wraps around Corky and Violet's quick, purposeful escalation.

With loyalties drawn and that bond struck, the path they turn down becomes dangerous: Corky and Violet, both headstrong individuals who know the limitations of their strengths and allegiances, orchestrate a plan to steal money from Caesar's organization and break free from "the business". That visceral energy from before, which one titillated, slowly becomes distressing and violent in Bound; gangsters bloody up a man over a toilet in the stark-white bathroom in Violet's apartment, while a hot-headed struggle of words and machismo ignites between Caesar and a younger, hot-headed upstart in the organization. The Wachowskis want the audience to really embrace the rawness of what's going on instead of merely digest the plot, that dangerous energy in the air that leads to strained desperation, and they do so with strikingly stylish flairs inside a levelheaded network of tension. Pools of blood, the tumble of liquor over ice, and the snip-snip of garden shears punctuate the situation's breathless high stakes while captivating the eyes.

Bound isn't a complex thriller, really; instead, it's a fairly upfront corkscrew of deception and scheming that's more interested in the complexity of its characters than how twisted the plot gets. The writing remains smart and instinctive as it follows the presumptions of flawed, crafty anti-heroes: Corky's shrewd criminal mind predicts what'll happen based on estimations of the people involved, yet instead of being bluntly accurate or inaccurate about her blueprint, it turns into a hectic jumble of both that requires their adaptation to pull it off. And, man, do The Wachowskis understand how to punctuate those moments where the plan goes right and when it flies off the rails, consistently a step or two ahead of the suspicions someone might have over what's going down. The central thrust of the film relies on that mistrust, whether Caesar will pick up on the plot that's playing out underneath his feet -which provide some of the film's critical, more serrated moments once control is lost.

Admiring the distinctiveness that Gina Gershon and Jennifer Tilly give the roguish femme fatales is easy, where the ruggedness of one accentuates the conniving persuasiveness of the other. Gershon's smirks and androgynous postures give Corky the right blend of confidence and frailty for someone who's been locked up and wants a fresh start, which conforms to the alluring "woman of the night" persona that Jennifer Tilly exudes from Violet. But, the most important aspect of their performances lies in how they interact with Caesar, and Joe Pantoliano's fierce turn runs the risk of going unnoticed within the lesbian histrionics and effervescent neo-noir style. Caesar intermittently commands power, relinquishes authority, and loses complete control of situations -- all of which an animated Pantoliano orchestrates with tack-sharp glances and innate wryness. All three could've been overblown caricatures, but instead they're embellished, buyable players in The Wachowski's game of conjecture.

Once Bound spirals out of control, it'd be reasonable to expect the twists-'n-turns to grow more convoluted and test the threshold of one's suspension of disbelief. Perhaps the most impressive element of this tack-sharp little thriller is its composure under pressure; the tunnel that leads to the end of Corky and Violet's plan becomes darker and deviates further from their blueprint, yet it stays within the realm of relative causality as the pace picks up. Visual liveliness and black humor dress the final tense act as a full-bodied collage of genre-bleeding delights -- such as the image of a twirling gun skidding across a pool of white paint, and the droplets of blood that soon follow -- yet the components mesh with one another and justify their presence inside the straight-faced thrills. And it brings the raw passion felt in the first twenty minutes full-circle, with a sense of catharsis in a crowd-pleasing finale that underscores exactly why Corky and Violet deserve one another, and where their loyalties lie once the seduction's over.

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