The Film: 5/5
**This review is based on a test disc provided by Arrow Video and may not reflect the final product. We will update the review if and when the final product is received.**
Have you ever heard of Bound? Sounds to you like a sleazy underground bondage item, does it? Guess again. This is one of the craftiest and most provocative of all modern film noirs, a genuine masterpiece of sustained tension and forbidden love from the directors who would later bring us the Matrix trilogy, Speed Racer, and Cloud Atlas. Wait....where the hell are you going?
Fine then, you leave me no choice. LESBIAN SEX!!!!!!!
Hey, welcome back. Now where was I?
Bound is one of those movies that achieved notoriety on the basis of a single scene. By now you can probably guess what that scene contains even if you've never seen the actual film before. But if you go into this particular picture expecting a non-stop Sapphic love fiesta then you're....ahem....bound to be disappointed. If that's your idea of kicks there are at least a million websites out there that can provide the entertainment you do desire. I hope when you're finished and have had ample time to clean up without going through that entire box of tissues you just bought to help you deal with the allergy season you come back to watch Bound. Thrillers are rarely this thrilling.
Gina Gershon, having just walked away from the flaming train wreck that is Showgirls, is just about perfectly cast as one-half of Bound's anti-hero (anti-heroine?) duo - Corky, an ex-con who takes a job as a plumber and painter in an apartment building where mob money man Caesar (Joe Pantoliano) lives with his girlfriend Violet (Jennifer Tilly). Clearly unhappy in her current relationship, Violet seduces Corky and the two fall in love and plan on leaving to start a new life together. But first they need some heavy funding with which to get started. Violet tells Corky that Caesar is bringing $2 million that was stolen from his boss Gino Marzzone (Richard C. Sarafian) by a violently-dispatched former business associate back to their apartment. Corky hatches what seems to be the perfect plan to steal the money and set Caesar up to take the fall, but as soon as the plan goes into action it falls victim to the ever-dependable Murphy's Law. When the money goes missing Caesar becomes increasingly paranoid and violent and Violet is unable to get away, forcing Corky to improvise a new plan in order to save the lives of herself and her new love, avoid the wrath of the mob, and escape with a fortune of ill-gotten booty.
The Wachowskis were nobodies when they made Bound. They had stood by helplessly and watched as their original action thriller script Assassins was rewritten extensively by people who weren't them throughout production. It was always going to be this way, wasn't it? That's what the brothers (back then they were brothers) realized after coming to Hollywood. Bound was designed to be their calling card to the industry; it may not have swept the awards circuit or set opening weekend box office records, but the critics took notice of its greatness and helped spread the word. The film did well in limited theatrical release and even better on home video. It showed anyone who bothered to watch what the Wachowskis were capable of with every necessary filmmaking resource at their disposal and it gave them the confidence to go forth on their next project, some sci-fi flick with kung fu, robots, and slow-motion gun battles.
Not that they weren't already brimming with confidence when they made Bound. This is not the work of amateur directors constantly bemused and bamboozled by the filmmaking process. Larry (now Lana) and Andy Wachowski were in full command of their craft right from the start and every carefully-composed second of Bound demonstrates. Their cinematographer on Bound was Bill Pope, one of the best the field has had to offer in the past three decades. They would later re-team on the Matrix movies. In addition Pope has also worked as director of photography on the second and third Spider-Man features directed by Sam Raimi, Edgar Wright's Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World and The World's End, and directed eight episodes of the rebooted Cosmos: A SpaceTime Odyssey for the Fox Network. He's also one of Bound's unsung heroes; this is a strikingly visual film with careful attention paid to the detailed production design of Eve Cauley (Factotum). Bound is mostly set inside the apartment building occupied by the three main characters, with the action often moving quickly between Corky's sparse, musty quarters and the luxurious apartment Caesar shares with Violet. Pope's work here is stellar as the Wachowskis stretch their meager budget and utilize the camera to glide from set to set with a fluid precision that Stanley Kubrick might have admired.
Bound isn't merely a chance for its director to show off behind the camera, though plenty of that is done and with cool artistry. The story is well-constructed and though it takes inspiration from the tropes of classic film noirs like The Postman Always Rings Twice and Double Indemnity it isn't beholden to them. Corky is the classic noir lead, someone who doesn't mind flirting with danger and dancing close to the fires of Hades, and Violet is the classic femme fatale tempting our hero into dark territory with the promise of sex, money, and the sweet life forever more. That leaves Caesar as the character who functions as both the film's heavy and its hapless victim, spending most of the first two acts as the latter before mutating through uncontrollable circumstances into the former. Pantoliano's performances makes the transition seem believable because he creates a convincing portrayal of a low-level gangster who knows quite well that his talent for numbers can't save him from a date with a pair of concrete Italian loafers. Supposedly the actor watched Humphrey Bogart's performance in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre to get into the mindset of an intelligent person slowly coming undone by the possibility of lost fortune.
One of the purest storytelling pleasures the Wachowskis offer us in Bound is in how they depict Corky setting up the plan to fleece Caesar and live happily ever after with her voluptuous moll only to reveal that the entire sequence was how the plan could hypothetically work as long as nothing went wrong. Then they spend the rest of the film subverting each phase of the plot and spinning the narrative off into unpredictable new directions. When the third act we are in the dark as to what could happen next, and that is very refreshing to experience in a time where films released by the major studios seem more like assembly line product than ever before.
Gershon is terrific as the gutsy heroine Corky, slowly revealing the vulnerability that exists beneath her steely exterior. She is matched up wonderfully with the underrated Jennifer Tilly, sending up the traditional femme fatale role with a heaving bosom and breathless, come hither attitude that are meant to mask her own personal strengths and weaknesses. The two actresses share a dynamic chemistry that makes their scenes positively electrifying to watch even when they're not engaged in fully nude staged copulation. John P. Ryan (Runaway Train) shines with limited screen time as a soft-spoken criminal associate of Caesar's who is sweet on Violet and even protective of her in a fatherly manner, while Christopher Meloni (Law & Order: Special Victims Unit) has a blast in a early role as the violent wiseguy son of mob boss Marzzone, played with Corelone-level grace by actor (Bugsy) and director (Vanishing Point) Richard C. Sarafian.
Arrow Video's Blu-ray presentation of Bound features a 1080p high-definition digital transfer of the film that was likely created for Olive Films' 2012 Region A release. After comparing screen shots from the Olive Blu-ray that appears to be the case. The transfer is framed in the original 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio (unlike the Olive disc which compressed the picture to 1.78:1, though no significant loss of visual information could be detected) and is gorgeous to behold. Details have been sharpened without looking smoothed over and the pronounced shadows and antiseptic whites in the painterly color spectrum have been moderately boosted to a fine brightness level that doesn't undermine the intentions of the filmmakers. Grain content has been kept at a minimum. A 2009 Region Free Japanese Blu-ray released by Summit Entertainment contained English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and Dolby Digital 2.0 audio tracks, whereas the Olive disc only featured the 2.0 soundtrack. Arrow has retained the 5.1 mix and included their own 2.0 Dolby surround track, both of which complement the film perfectly regardless of whatever home set-up on which you choose to watch this Blu-ray. Audio distortion is non-existent and every component of the sound mix comes through each speaker with immaculate clarity and solidly balanced volume levels. English SDH subtitles have also been provided.
As mentioned in the previous section, Bound was released on Region A Blu-ray by Olive Films in 2012 but outside of a terrific technical presentation of the film it offered nothing worth a buy at full retail price. A DVD edition distributed by Republic Pictures in 2001 featured a few extras ported over from an earlier laserdisc that have also been included on Arrow Video's Blu-ray for completion's sake alongside a stellar selection of new and vintage bonus features exclusive to this release.
The main noteworthy supplement on the Republic DVD that has been presented here is a rare audio commentary with the Wachowskis (the only commentary to date they've recorded for one of their films) and here they are also joined by editor Staenberg and feminist author and activist Susie Bright, who was employed by the directors as a technical adviser for the bedroom scenes and makes a cameo appearance. The quartet's informative and candid observations are frequently broken up by separately recorded comments from stars Gershon, Tilly, and Pantoliano.
Arrow partnered up with Red Shirt Pictures to produce four new interview featurettes. The first is "Modern Noir: The Sights & Sounds of Bound" (29 minutes), which takes a contemporary look at the making of the film from a more technical perspective through interviews with cinematographer Pope, composer Davis, and editor Staenberg. Their insights into helping to create Bound's distinctive look and feel make up the bulk of the documentary but a good portion of their time is also focused on how each person first came to work with the Wachowskis and how their collaborative efforts resulted in those professional relationships extending to the brothers' next widely-seen films. Stars Gershon and Tilly are front and center for "Femme Fatales" (27 minutes), while Pantoliano talks about his involvement in the film in "Hail Ceasar" (13 minutes) and Meloni returns to discuss playing a volatile thug in "Here's Johnny!" (10 minutes). All four featurettes are well worth your viewing time for the amount of illuminating anecdotes shared.
The remainder of the disc-based extras are devoted to the film's domestic and global marketing campaigns: three theatrical trailers (7 minutes), two television spots, U.S. and international electronic press kit featurettes (5 minutes each), and a small stills gallery consisting of production and behind-the-scenes photos and poster and video art. It's interesting but hardly surprising to note that the international trailer and featurette play up the sexual elements of Bound more overtly than the American ones.
A DVD copy containing a standard definition presentation of the film with optional 5.1 Surround and 2.0 Stereo audio tracks and all of the accompanying extras, a reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Sam Smith, and a collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by James Oliver will also be included in this set.
A classic modern noir to stand with the likes of the Coen Brothers' Blood Simple and John Dahl's Red Rock West, Bound keeps the suspense, sex, and surprise coming at you from beginning to end with the Wachowskis showing the world they had the right stuff years before they took their first trip into the Matrix. Arrow's extras-packed Region B Blu-ray is the best release of the film anywhere in the world now. If you must own Bound, and you absolutely must own Bound, this is the edition to purchase.