Stylish. Sultry. Steamy. Superb. The Wachowski brothers prepare for The Matrix with this little number.

Released in 1996, certified UK-18. Reviewed on 25 Apr 2003 by Craig Eastman
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With the world awaiting the imminent release of The Matrix Reloaded, it's easy to forget the Wachowski brothers were also responsible for this little number. Bound was nothing more than a deposit, if you will, on the brother's part; down payment to Warner before the studio would let them embark upon The Matrix. That they regard it as such a throwaway item is testimony to either their genius or insanity, since it represents one of the most satisfying modern no?r thrillers in many a year.

The story revolves around three main characters who all live in a Mob-owned apartment block somewhere in Chicago. Ceasar (Joe Pantoliano) is a Mob accountant who lives with his girlfriend Violet (Jennifer Tilly). Fed up with the life of violence and crime she is forced to witness, Violet understandably wants out. Recently moved in next door is tough female ex-con Corky (Gina Gershon), a lesbian paying back her debt to the Family by carrying out maintenance work about the apartments. After she is seduced by Violet, the pair embark on an affair that leads them to attempt to defraud the Mob in a bid to start a new life together.

They see their chance when a traitor called Shelly (Barry Kivel) divulges the whereabouts of $2 million he's skimmed to Ceasar and local boss Micky (John P. Ryan). With Don Gino Marzzone (Richard C. Sarafian) and his trigger-happy son Johnnie (Christopher Meloni), who runs Chicago, on their way to collect the cash in person, Violet and Corky seize the opportunity to swipe the dough and frame Ceasar while they're at it.

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There follows a dangerous game of trust and deception with the two lovers, unsure as to whether the other can really be counted on, planning and executing the daring heist. Everything goes according to plan, with Caesar suspecting Johnnie of setting him up, and the Don certain to place the blame on Caesar. Violet and Corky are counting on Caesar doing the only sane thing by running for his life, but when he holds out for the meeting and confronts Johnnie at gunpoint in front of his father, it becomes apparent things are about to take a turn for the worse.

Using established no?r and thriller techniques such as a fractured narrative, and supplementing the mix with their own inventive style, the Wachowski's have created a slick character piece worthy of inclusion alongside the modern greats. The movie begins with Corky tied up in a closet after the botched meeting, then jumps back to relay events from the start. Fans of The Matrix will recognise flourishes such as the camera panning along twisted phone wires when calls are made to follow the conversation, and there's some stylish little inclusions such as the shot where the camera pulls back from inside the barrel of a revolver to reveal the table it's resting on.

Backing up the visual flair are a uniformly exceptional cast. Pantoliano and Tilly especially seem well suited to the surroundings, with the sultry tones of the latter alluding to the female greats of the 30's and 40's. Her chemistry with Gershon is notable, and likely to fuel many a male fantasy amongst the audience. Nobody here is less than convincing, which is essential for a movie like this that relies on an intimate setting with so few actors to carry the dramatic weight.

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As the situation spirals increasingly out of control, so the twists and tension mount until a satisfying final? that sees pretty much everybody who's deserving get their comeuppance. The directors keep an assured hold of the reins, keeping the pacing and the performances tight, making the fact that this was their first directorial outing even more of a revelation. There's never a dull moment, yet at the same time nothing feels rushed. There's certainly plenty of tension on offer to keep things brisk, with many a red herring on offer to raise the pulse, and the feeling of relief as each potentially disastrous situation is cleverly defused is entirely palpable.

Working from their own tight script, Andy and Larry Wachowski have created a brilliant modern work of intrigue and deception that easily stands up to repeated viewing to a much greater extent than The Matrix. It's also worthy of note that the tact and general air of normality with which they have imbued the lesbian contexts has been universally praised by the gay community as neither clich?d nor condescending. There's certainly no reason why Corky should be female, but then there's arguably no reason why she shouldn't be either, and the sexuality never seems exploitative or dishonest.

Whilst it's values may be classic and rooted in the tried and tested, the masterful plotting and consummate acting of Bound lend it a fresh air that raises it well above the norm. Smoldering, erotic, clever and satisfying in equal measures, for any fan of the genre to miss this would be a crime. Never mind The Matrix, this is the Wachowski's best work, and the release of Reloaded and Revelations is unlikely to change that.

Craig Disko has awarded this classic little number 5 out of 5 Smoky Disko Caf?'s.

Andy & Larry Wachowski
Cast list:
Jennifer Tilly (Violet)
Gina Gershon (Corky)
Joe Pantoliano (Caesar)