Bound: Lesbians in the labyrinth
Bound is a perfect distillation of 90’s cinema, a bygone era when indie filmmakers and screenwriters, clamoring to capture the cinematic zeitgeist, found themselves backed into corners and forced to write their way out.
The Wachowski siblings cut their legacy with 1999’s The Matrix and will probably be known for that film until movies cease to exist. It’s a fair legacy to have, one which any filmmaker would gladly wish for. But Bound, in its taut screenplay and tight stylistic flourishes, seems a greater representation of their skill, exhibiting a fondness for dirty noir atmosphere and fetishized technology that the first Matrix reveled in and that was missing from the later two movies.
In the cramped corners of a Chicago apartment complex, lesbian ex-con Corky (Gina Gershon) renovates the dwelling next door to Violet (Jennifer Tilly), arm candy to gangster Caesar (Joe Pantoliano). When Violet invites Corky over to her place to fix a leak, her seductive intentions toward her couldn’t be more forward. An intense sexual relationship develops and soon a plan is hatched to nab the $2 million Caesar is holding for his boss.
As the scheming pair, Tilly and Gershon vibrate with raw sexual energy. Tilly smolders with her breathy voice, feline features, and hourglass shape, an absolutely archetypal vision of a gangster’s moll. Gershon’s devil may care attitude, soulful eyes, and offbeat smile suit Corky’s resourceful adaptability. It’s a credit to the actress that she has difficulty inviting vulnerability to a guarded con that has been burned by a partnership before and is wary of another one built on the untested waters of trust.
The Wachowski’s establish the set design like a rat trap, a perfect noir maze for its two heroines, who operate between the two apartments through telephone lines and thin walls. Bill Pope’s cinematography paints the ladies in soft light, at one point highlighting their pale faces in a single strip of sidelight, and in one great close-up, leaving just their mouths in the frame as they edge dangerously close. A forced perspective shot of the barrel of a gun next to a tumbler of alcohol and other touches like the redial button on the phone, a blood-soaked carpet, and the stacked bodies in a bathtub illustrate the deft sense of space and time that the filmmakers are able to operate in.
At the center of the film is Pantoliano, who sweats and fidgets his way through Caesar’s ordeal as a man in the unenviable position to play his cards right and advance or fold too early and lose it all. His character’s resourcefulness at staying alive facilitates the situational irony of the script, which only intensifies the dramatic irony for the audience.
Outside of pulpy eroticism, the lesbian angle provides new dimensions to its heist that a heterosexual relationship would either solve or exacerbate, namely the gender dynamics of trust and crime. Is Violet’s lipstick lesbian act a rouse to make out with the money herself or has her subservience to a mob relationship truly pushed her over the limit? By thriller standards, two women equal twice the vulnerability, thus twice the danger. Bound plays off of those odds and cleverly finds a way to buck the trend. There certainly is twice the danger. But this time, not for the women.