A most unusual thriller, Steven Soderbergh’s The Limey turns the classic revenge narrative on its side, holds it up, and lets us see the light shine through. It’s an odd piece, and an affecting one.
Despite an excellent supporting cast, including marvelous performances from Luis Guzman and Lesley Ann Warren, Terence Stamp carries the film on his slim shoulders; he plays Wilson, an aging British thief. During one of his many sojourns in jail, his daughter Jenny grew up and moved to California, where she cavorted with a much older (and much richer) music producer, Valentine (played with old-school SoCal ease and skeeze by Peter Fonda). Now she’s dead.
When he’s released, Wilson heads straight to L.A. to get the real story. He’s rough and gruff, full of colorful Cockney slang, and all alone in an absurdly foreign culture. He’s also dangerously smart — about people and about criminal enterprises. The discontinuity of the editing and sound give the whole story a dreamy, dazed feeling, letting us experience Wilson’s own sense of disorientation — in L.A., in the free world outside of prison, and in a world that was home to the daughter he loved but never really had time to know.
The film loops between states: it’s static and pensive and dreamily unwinding into emptiness, and suddenly it’s whip-fast and viciously sharp… and back again. Suitably enough for a film about aging 1960s icons, the narrative in The Limey plays like a warped old LP, spinning around on its axis and warbling its wavering song into the air.