Movie still from 1996's "Bound."

Bound March 17, 2017        

If these walls could talk, perhaps they’d need a few days allotted for speechlessness before letting on what they’ve seen.  Bound (1996), the writing and directing debut of the Wachowski sisters, tells the story of Corky and Violet (Gina Gershon and Jennifer Tilly), lovers who scheme to steal $2 million worth of mob money from Violet’s piggish mafioso boyfriend, Caesar (Joe Pantoliano).  

 

The blueprint is spotless but the execution is fucked, not so much because Corky and Violet aren’t adept in their manipulations but because the egos of the men surrounding them are monumental enough to get in the way of anybody who makes the mistake of so much as sitting in the same room.  

 

But the art of the undercut is what they’re trying to perfect — not necessarily the feat of getting out of the situation unscathed — and by Bound’s second act have we come to the conclusion that we want nothing more than for these cunning women to get ahead in their unendingly undervalued existences.  Both come into each other’s lives at the right place during the right time, after all.

 

Corky, sardonic and tricky, has just been released from prison.  An ex-con sold out by an old partner who determined that getting out of the crime racket was more important than maintaining loyalties, she’s mostly decided that she’s going to attempt to live a life uninterrupted by delinquency, dedicating her interests to normalcy and to societal readjustment.

 

Violet, glacé and seemingly passive, has spent most of her adult life acting as an ornamental moll.  Having done little else besides remain the aforementioned Caesar’s confidant and sex object, she yearns to rid herself of her current situation, to see her own worth through rather than cast her ambitions aside for someone else.  One can only watch their small-time crook of a significant other do clumsy bad for so long before they begin to forget how to see straight.

 

Violet and her guy call home to a ritzy New York apartment that’s in no doubt seen a lot of shit in its lifetime.  And Corky, almost having forgotten what the world looks like when not distinguished by iron bars, chain link fences, and drab jumpsuits, moves in next door just as Violet’s decided that she’s had enough. 

 

When their eyes meet for the first time in an elevator, the connection is instantaneous.  A few days pass and Violet and Corky are as in love as quickly as characters living in a two-hour movie can be, per Violet’s humorously unrefined methods of seduction.

 

Both are aware that merely riding off into the sunset isn’t enough, though.  Take Caesar’s startling lack of humility into account and it’s settled that the chances that he’ll kill Violet for her betrayal are high.  So the women hash out a shrewd little plot.  Which, of course, involves getting their paws on a steep sum of mob money, framing Caesar for the deed, and leaving the situation rich, happy, and best yet, free to reach out for self-actualization and actually grab onto something.

 

Nothing goes as planned, but like most movies that utilize a botched heist as the thing that keeps suspenseful momentum steady, there’s nothing better than unwanted messiness. There’s an unbridled joy to be found in intently watching as the leads we grow to care about so deeply have to make their way out of a nearly impossible situation.  Our being drawn to the film is hugely dependent on how much we believe all the goings-on, especially considering that the movie rarely changes location (think the Alfred Hitchcock/Grace Kelly collaborations of the mid-1950s) and that only three characters drive the plot. 

 

Fortunately, we’re wont to be persuaded.  Despite being the Wachowskis’ first feature, the film throbs with cinematic confidence, swelling with carnality and a winking sense of humor that assures us that the movie’s subversion of typical noir tropes is an undoubtedly knowing move on the part of its filmmakers.

 

A lot of the magnetic execution has to do with the inspired casting, which, like the film itself, undermines expectations and manages to prevail.  

 

Tilly is all curves, hip shimmies, and eyebrow raises, a raven-haired take on ditziness a la Jean Hagen who proves herself as a force to be reckoned with.  Her Violet is more or less an actress, masquerading as an air-headed boy toy who has a lot more going on in her pretty little head than her prettied guise would have you believing.  Gershon is all angles, crooked smirks, and enigmatic cool, a tough-as-nails creation who seems to have the upper hand even when she’s the victim of a man’s violence. 

 

Tilly and Gershon's differing physicalities and temperaments stir together sizzlingly and generate a kind of chemistry that’s both steaming and slightly humorous — all involved seem to be aware of the dangers of potentially pandering to the Skinemax crowd and ultimately outsmarted are the constraints of shameless provocation. 

 

Even its outwardly facile title is as inherently complex as the film resting under it.  Perhaps the most obvious binding is Corky and Violet’s dedication to one another, and how the tricks they’re pulling will chain them together no matter if they remain by each other’s side for a lifetime.  And there are moments where they're literally bound: when they’re in the arms of the other, when their hands are joined in unity; when they’re tied up by bloodthirsty fiends, when they’re locked in closets or rooms to keep their mouths shut. Then there are the metaphorical bindings: Violet is bound to her persona as a straight woman, tied to the trappings of the closet, and Corky is bound to her standing as a criminal, unable to escape her past because sin suits her so well.  Everything about Bound is loaded — not a moment doesn’t seem methodical.

 

The Wachowskis would make their cultural mark just three years after Bound’s release with The Matrix, the sci-fi staple that changed the face of the modern Hollywood blockbuster.  But Bound, so minimal in comparison to their mostly stylistically maximal oeuvre, stands as their greatest accomplishment simply because it doesn’t rely on flash to thrill our senses.  The Wachowskis can see that the cinema’s barest components are capable of sensorial stimulation, and that straightforwardness is becoming.  A

 

 

Directed by

Lana Wachowski

Lilly Wachowski

 

Starring

Jennifer Tilly

Gina Gershon

Joe Pantoliano

John Ryan

Peter Spellos

Mary Mara

Susie Bright

 

Rated

R

 

Released in

1996

 

Running Time

1 Hr., 48 Mins.