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'Bound' to Thrill

Jennifer Tilly
Randy Tepper Money Laundering: Jennifer Tilly plays a mobster's moll with a taste for money and forbidden love in "Bound."

Film noir archetypes cross genders in stylish new lesbian thriller

By Richard von Busack

'LESBIAN IS very good right now," says Goldie Hawn's Elise in The First Wives Club. Maybe Elise had heard about Bound, a handsome, cool thriller by Larry and Andy Wachowski. Gina Gershon (the oxymoronic good part of Showgirls) plays Corky, a freelance handyperson with a leather jacket and untidy hair. Such is luck--she falls for the kept woman, Violet (Jennifer Tilly), of a Mafia bagman. The two engineer a burglary that leaves Corky where we first see her, underneath the titles, beat up, tied hand and foot, and waiting for the worst.

From Violet and Corky's first cruise in an elevator to Corky's trussing-up, the aura of decades of doomed lesbian popular romance fits, like a key in a lock, the familiar mood of film noir. Bound will be the first movie at which some members of the audience will really, truly forget the sexes of the lovers, since the archetypes have courses of their own strong enough to carry the story.

The passive, breathy-voiced little harlot Violet is, as she's been for decades, the kind of trouble the protagonist can't keep out of, despite better judgment. The jail-hardened hero doesn't have to tell us that s/he won't be going back to the big house, and the scum-in-a-suit Ceasar (Joe Pantoliano) is just as much a cinematic fixture.

Of the three, Tilly does a little more than usual with the archetype; I especially liked her one flash of tenderness as she watches Ceasar near suicide over not being able to find the requisite suitcase full of money. The lightweight Pantoliano is too comic for the role--too bad he couldn't have switched parts with John Ryan, the distinctly scary actor who plays Mickey, Ceasar's boss, and puts a real chill into the picture.

The Wachowski brothers don't make many false moves, and they respect their heroine with her bloody smile, her labrys tattoo and her lock-pick earrings. Men made Bound, but the intention is more to thrill with a crime story than to titillate. The lone sex scene is a speedy, horseshoe-shaped curve around the lovers' heavily shadowed, locked-together bodies.

Sometimes the cleverness turns into clever-cleverness: the pool of white paint in which a bad guy dies, and the excess of Tarantino-style extremity clipping ("I'm gonna ask you ten questions," a thug says, bringing some pruning sheers up to a helpless embezzler's fingers). Too bad the brothers didn't take the shears to lines like "For me, stealing is a lot like sex."

Still, they've polished Bound until it shines, with sterling compositions, Coen brothers­style camera magic and unobtrusive raiding of Hitchcock (there's a quick shot of a prop gun as big as the monster revolver in the last scenes of Spellbound).

The thriller turns neatly on Ceasar's line when he discovers that Corky has stolen his money and his girl: "Your kind can't be trusted." There's the essence of the appeal of noir--at least for a couple of hours, everyone, lesbian or straight, wants to feel like the kind who can't be trusted.

Bound (R; 108 min.), directed and written by Larry and Andy Wachowski, photographed by Bill Pope, and starring Jennifer Tilly and Gina Gershon.

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From the October 3-9, 1996 issue of Metro

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