"The Limey"

Steven Soderbergh talks about the innate decency of the title character in his fractured art-house crime thriller.

By Stephanie Zacharek

Published June 28, 2000 7:00PM (EDT)

"The Limey"
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Starring Terence Stamp, Peter Fonda, Luiz Guzman, Lesley Ann Warren
Artisan Entertainment; widescreen 1.85:1
Extras: Trailers, director and screenwriter commentary, production notes, more

Steven Soderbergh's "The Limey" is like a magic trick: The cards are shuffled into a state of impossible disorder and chaos, but then ultimately -- and seemingly miraculously -- arrange themselves into a beautifully logical and orderly fan. "The Limey" tells the story of a rufty-tufty English ex-con (Terence Stamp, more beautiful than ever, in a deeply affecting performance) who shows up in Los Angeles to investigate, and avenge, the death of his daughter. His chief target: the aging and particularly slimy record producer she'd been involved with (Peter Fonda, who's brilliant at conveying the essence of leftover, burned-out '60s arrogance).

Its stroke-of-genius pairing of two '60s icons aside, "The Limey" is essentially a down-to-earth crime thriller that's cut like an art film. The story is told out of sequence, but there's an inherent logic to it. Conversations are re-created and reconstituted; they often resemble memories of conversations rather than real ones. The effect is riveting as well as surprisingly realistic.

The running commentary included on the DVD, with Soderbergh and screenwriter Lem Dobbs, cuts a clear window into the making of such a gorgeously structured and odd little movie. Soderbergh admits to having been influenced by Jean-Luc Godard and Alain Resnais. Dobbs notes that the picture's fragmentation is "very novelistic ... People talk about [the movie] as being cinematically stylish, [but] I think it's a lot more of a literary device." He also reveals one of the models for the Terence Stamp character: Henry Cooper, the English heavyweight champ who was defeated by Cassius Clay (as he was then called). In both characters, Dobbs explains, "a kind of folksy friendliness and decency is intermingled with savage violence." But in both men, decency is the overriding trait. Says Dobbs: "If you didn't have a babysitter, I think you could entrust your kid with the Terence Stamp character in 'The Limey.'"

Stephanie Zacharek

Stephanie Zacharek is a senior writer for Salon Arts & Entertainment.

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