Movie: The Limey (1999)

“You’ve told me this story before”

That line is spoken by the 20-something arm candy of Peter Fonda’s character.  “But I don’t mind if you tell it to me again.”

This is a pretty apt summary of my feelings about The Limey, Steven Soderbergh’s 1999 movie that shows us a story we seen in many variations before but which we are pleased to see again.  And the pleasure is especially in the telling.

Which surprises me, as roughly the first third of the movie is a deliberately jarring mess of quick edits and repeated segments.  For example, we keep seeing Terence Stamp (as the titular character) on a plane while the soundtrack has snippets of dialogue that haven’t occurred yet.  Is this a flight coming to Los Angeles, where the entirety of the film plays out, or departing from?  Are these flashbacks or flashforwards?

Speaking of flashbacks, this is movie haunted by the ghost of the 60’s.  Firstly, the casting, where you have one lead played by the star of Easy Rider and the other played by a mod-era British icon.  The Limey even repurposes footage from Poor Cow, a 60s movie, to portray Stamp as a younger man.  It is little surprise that Barry Newman, star of counterculture touchstone Vanishing Point, appears in a supporting role.  Secondly, there are multiple needle drops through the film of late 60’s LA rock.

Another ghost haunting the movie is the movies themselves.  A blatant example is the use of Poor Cow to insert a younger Stamp into the flashbacks.  And it is inevitable there would be a scene on the sidelines of a shoot, and where low-rent thugs casually discuss the more mundane aspects of movie production.  I wouldn’t have believed this scene if I had never been to LA myself, where the minutia of the industry is so frequently in conversation that absorbing it becomes as natural as breathing in the polluted air.  A movie far older than the 60s even haunts this film, as I have no doubt Soderbergh was channeling 1931’s The Public Enemy when he films a massacre in a warehouse using only an unbroken, stationary wide shot of the building.

Initially, I was annoyed by the jarring editing the film employs at the onset; however, I eventually settled into its rhythms and my patience was rewarded as the movie eventually settled into more conventional storytelling.  What first felt like a finished movie tossed into a blender eventually eases into a something akin to a movie waking up from a dream.  And, as the movie concludes, that jarring editing returns—we are skipping backwards and forwards in time, the movie is deconstructing itself again, off to a sleep haunted by previous eras, and even by movies themselves.

Dir: Steven Soderbergh

Starring: Terence Stamp, Peter Fonda, Lesley Ann Warren, Luiz Guzman

Watched on: Kanopy