Bound (The Wachowski Brothers)

Rating: *** (out of ****)

If you've heard anything at all about Bound, you've probably heard that it involves lesbians. And if you're anything like me, that fact immediately makes you leery -- not because of homophobia or narrow-minded disinterest, but because the vast majority of recent gay-themed movies have been downright awful, concerned first and foremost -- and to the detriment of whatever narrative there might be -- with making an ideological statement ("Gays are people too," usually. Yes, I know; can I have my $8.50 back?). Bound, therefore, was a great relief to me: the protagonists are lesbians, but that doesn't matter at all. You could replace Gina Gershon with Gary Sinise, and it would require the alteration of maybe half a dozen lines of dialogue. No big deal is made of the fact that these two women want each other, and that's a major step forward. The rest of the film, directed by Chicagoan siblings Andy and Larry Wachowski, is a minor step backward to the neo-noir sensibility of movies like Blood Simple and Body Heat; it's derivative, especially of those other brothers, but it's still an impressive and promising debut. Bound begins in classic noir fashion, but that sensibility is really limited to the characterizations and the color scheme (the film is in color, but black and white predominate its set and costume design); the ingeniously constructed plot is more suspenseful than twisty-turny, delighting us not with sudden revelations ("oh my god, that isn't a real llama! That must mean Raoul is behind everything!"), but with the unpredictability of human nature. The film is at its most exciting when people (primarily Caesar, a less-hapless-than-usual fall guy played in fine nerve-jangling fashion by Joe Pantoliano) don't do what other people expected them to do -- when they don't make the logical move. Unfortunately, the characters aren't nearly as interesting as the plot, Caesar excepted; though the matter-of-fact way in which the women's relationship is handled is somewhat progressive, these are still iconic lesbians, their sexual orientation expected to pass for characterization. Gershon and Jennifer Tilly (who's surprisingly effective -- her helium-overdose voice seems all wrong for the role, but somehow it works) do what they can within the limited range that each possesses, but all they have to work with is "butch" and "femme." Still, while memorable characters are always welcome, a film like Bound can squeak by without them if it's plotted tightly enough, and in that respect les frères Wachowski succeed magnificently; this is the strongest "what-will-happen-next?" movie I've seen all year. The hyperactive camerawork that's de rigueur for first-timers nowadays is only occasionally irritating.