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Review: Bound (1996)

Bound (1996)

Directed by: Lilly and Lana Wachowski

Premise: Gina Gershon and Jennifer Tilly play an ex-con and a mafia wife who go in on a scheme to rip off a stash of mob money.

What Works: Looking at the first directorial efforts of established filmmakers can be enlightening. Sometimes these early projects reveal the seeds of ideas and themes that come to fruition later on such as Alfred Hitchcock’s 1934 version of The Man Who Knew Too Much which he remade in 1956 and whose themes he repeated again in films like North by Northwest. In other cases looking at the early work of established filmmakers allows a chance to see something quite different; Steven Spielberg’s The Sugarland Express is unlike anything else in his career. In the case of Andy and Lana Wachowski, Bound is a fascinating film to consider, especially for viewers familiar with the rest of their filmography such as The Matrix trilogy, Cloud Atlas, Speed Racer, and Jupiter Ascending. On one hand, the story of Bound is remarkably different from their later work. This is not a sci-fi tale and it does not have the kind of frantic action sequences that they’ve become known for. Bound is also a very tightly edited picture. The Wachowski’s sci-fi epics, especially their lesser efforts like The Matrix Revolutions and Jupiter Ascending, tended to be overindulgent and clumsy. By contrast, Bound is a taut thriller that has exceptional storytelling economy. This film also has a sense of humor, something that is present in the Wachowski’s other movies but is never quite as evident as it is here. On the other hand, Bound reveals many of the ideas and obsessions of the Wachowskis and it allows viewers to appreciate those themes in their later films. Among the qualities on display in their first feature is the Wachowski’s subversive streak. Bound was released in 1996 when having gay characters in a motion picture was still somewhat of a taboo and they virtually never appeared in lead roles in anything except AIDS dramas. Bound tells the story of two women functioning in a man’s world and outsmarting the violent masculine characters at their own game. The film is further subversive in its depiction of sexuality. A lot of Hollywood films run away from sexuality, especially homosexuality, or dangle it in the audience’s face only to punish the characters and the viewers for enjoying it. Bound presents sexuality in a way that is unapologetically sensual while also non-exploitative. The sexuality is part of the film’s subversive nature and the way these scenes are shot gives the impression that we’ve seen much more than has actually been exposed. Bound also features the Wachowski’s ability to combine familiar story genres in unexpected ways and they use those recombinations to manipulate the audience’s expectations.

What Doesn’t: The ending of Bound is abrupt. The film concludes its story but things wrap up a little too neatly. Given that virtually everyone in this movie is a criminal or is somehow abusing or manipulating someone else, the film’s tidy ending is a little out of character with the rest of the picture. A more complicated ending or one that required some loss on the part of the film’s survivors might have been a little more satisfying. There is also a practical question hanging over the movie. Bound is about two women who decide to team up on a life or death heist within days of meeting each other. As Gina Gershon’s character points out, that requires an incredible amount of trust, even for people who have been together for a long time. The twists and turns of the plot and the intensity of the relationship between Gershon and Tilly’s characters generally compensates for that leap in credibility but it is the weakest link in what is otherwise a very tightly written movie.

DVD extras: The Blu-ray edition includes both the R-rated and unrated cuts. Earlier DVD editions include a commentary track.

Bottom Line: Bound is a movie that fans of thrillers and of the Wachowski’s should seek out but it is also a movie that the Wachowski’s themselves should probably revisit. The narrow scope of its story and the discipline and focus with which it was made could be a refreshing reminder to the Wachowskis of the subversive filmmakers that they once were.

Episode: #530 (February 22, 2015)