Posted on 14 April 2009.
Never come between a man and his daughter. This is a simple truth known at least to the man once his child emerges from the womb. I remember one of the first things my brother said when my niece was born was he’d have to buy a shotgun once she was of dating age. This innate urge to protect was recently exploited in one of the biggest box office surprises of the year in Taken. A man allows his daughter to go on an overseas adventure. She is kidnapped and he’s forced into action to avenge her disappearance. Ten years prior, a similar father-on-a-mission flick was released in the form of The Limey.
Wilson, an Englishman who’d been locked in prison for a third term for armed robbery, is sent a letter soon after his release into the harsh reality of the outside world. The letter contains a newspaper clipping stating his daughter, Jenny, had died in a mysterious car crash. He sets off to Los Angeles to find the sender of the letter, hoping to uncover clues surrounding the mystery, which he believes to be a cover-up of something larger.
A fool and his life are soon parted.
The man who sent the letter to Wilson is Ed Roel (not Edward Role, but Eduardo Ro-el). Ed met Jenny in an acting class. He tells Wilson of a drug deal he and Jenny played witness to at a warehouse, orchestrated by music producer Terry Valentine (Peter Fonda). Valentine also happened to be Jenny’s lover at the time of her death. Wilson takes this newly acquired information and goes in search of Valentine. His first stop, the warehouse where the drug deal went down. Wilson is able to gather Valentine’s home address through physical means and leaves the lone survivor of the warehouse with a message for Valentine. “Tell him I’m coming.”
Ed introduces Wilson to Elaine, Jenny’s best friend and acting coach. She reveals details about Jenny that Wilson couldn’t have received elsewhere and it only serves to fuel his fire to avenge his daughter’s death. Although he’s most certainly capable of performing his act alone, he elicits the help of Ed and Elaine to aid him on his quest to right where his daughter and their friend was wronged.
Can you believe this isn't Denise Richards? Nor any sort of relative?
Steven Soderbergh was just entering his directing prowess when he undertook The Limey. It was right after he directed Out of Sight and right before he was nominated twice in the same year for directing Erin Brockovich and Traffic (he won for Traffic). Perhaps it’s because the film was sandwiched in between those works that The Limey has gone underseen. However, it could also very well be due to the somewhat more experimental nature of the direction and the leading man being white-haired Terrance Stamp, not the most household of names.
Soderbergh imbues a unique creative flourish in the film. During scenes flashing back to a past time in Wilson’s life, depicting his relationship with Jenny and her mother, Soderbergh doesn’t bring in younger actors to play the roles, but rather uses scenes from a 1967 Stamp-starring film, Poor Cow. Some of these scenes fit so perfectly into the fabric of the storyline it’s almost as if the film was written with Poor Cow in mind. Another technique Soderbergh employs is a jumping timeline. Some scenes are shown that take place before and after the scene just shown. This isn’t a patchwork timeline like Babel or 21 Grams, but are more small inserts in a larger cohesive story. Sound is used to enhance this process as a conversation might take place at one time and the conversation continues in a completely different setting at another time. These aspects elevate the film above any other revenge-oriented fare.
Terrance Stamp’s Wilson is great. He speaks in cockney rhyming slang that you have to admire for it inventiveness. He calls Ed his new China. China = China Plate = Mate. Tea Leaves = Thieves. Butcher = Butcher’s Hook = Look. E-40, eat your heart out. The man isn’t a trained killer like Liam Neeson’s character in Taken. He’s a criminal and knows his way around a gun, but it’s the revenge for his daughter’s life that truly takes a hold of him. Although he may not have been the man that was always there for his little girl, his path toward redemption is always only a bullet away.
Mad dogging through the fence.
All of the acting is superb here. Peter Fonda doesn’t play Valentine with the slickness a drug-involved-record-producer normally would be shown in film, but rather a man who tries to move on with the only life he’s known after he disposes of Jenny. Luis Guzman has a smaller role here as Ed and gives him likeability and willingness to help that his characters usually don’t possess. Even with his small amount of screen time, though, the stand-out performance belongs to Nicky Katt. He plays a long-haired mustachioed career hitman, hired to knock off Wilson for Valentine. A scene where he and his partner follow Wilson and Elaine to a film set and he proceeds to skewer the environment and industry with verbal barbs is pure enjoyment. “Why don’t they make shows about people’s daily lives you’d be interested in watching? You know, like ‘Sick Old Man’ or ‘Skinny Little Weakling.’ ‘Big Fat Guy.’ Wouldn’t you watch a show called ‘Big Fat Guy?’ I’d watch that f***ing show.” Brilliant. The character ought to have his own spin-off and Katt ought to be a star.
Of course you don’t necessarily need to take my word for it. The Limey was nominated for five Independent Spirit Awards. It didn’t win any, but lest we forget, this was 1999, one of the best years for film. For anybody that saw and enjoyed Taken, and I know it was a lot of you, I urge you to check out this similarly-themed film. Anybody that hasn’t, you still ought to expose yourself to this film. The visual and non-linear storytelling is entirely mesmerizing and there are performances you’ll no doubt enjoy. The Limey is a mission-fueled Film U Missed.
Buy this Film U Missed here.