By John H. Foote
They beat him without mercy, hammering him with fists and kicking him when he goes down. They take him out of the building and dump him on the sidewalk like a broken animal. Without missing a beat, he lays there as they walk into the building, then he stands, works a kink out of his neck, draws a gun from his waistband walks back into the building and kills them. He emerges in a rage screaming to anyone close enough to listen, “You tell them I’m coming …. you tell them I’m coming!” He razors this out with such blind ferocity I remember thinking from my chair in the screening room, “that is the toughest man I have ever seen”.
His name is Wilson, just released from prison in England to discover his beloved, though estranged, daughter has been killed. Broken hearted but smelling a rat, he hops the next flight to Los Angeles to get some answers. As portrayed by Terence Stamp, the British Actor best known as the man of steel’s enemy General Zod in Superman (1978), Wilson is like a coiled piece of spring, there might be rust on him, but he can still pop. And when this sinewy, raging man pops he brings hell with him.
He arrives in L.A. hellbent on finding out how his daughter died. As a career criminal, his instincts on high alert, something about the story that she was struck by a car feels wrong. Wilson’s investigation lands him in some difficult situations like the one described in the first paragraph, but this is a man who does not scare, not even a little bit. As he digs, he finds that all roads lead to his daughter’s lover Scott Valentine (Peter Fonda), an obscenely wealthy record producer twice her age, and who Wilson believes is hiding something. Valentine’s lawyer pays a hit man to take Wilson out, but finds the older man tough to kill, as wily Wilson has been in more than one or two tough spots.
When he finally learns the truth about his daughter he cannot blame Valentine, because what happened connects to his own past, a strange game they played when she was a child sensing he was into illegal doings.
Steven Soderbergh directed the film with a documentary look and feel. Basking in the glow of rave reviews for Out of Sight (1998) with George Clooney, the young director chose to make this low budget film with a former sixties star near forgotten. Stamp had enjoyed a hit with the wonderful Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994), but never really found stardom again after the sixties. Casting the actor was an absolute stroke of genius from Soderbergh, known for having an eye in casting the right people. Using old footage from a film entitled Poor Cow (1966), Soderbergh was able to show a much younger Wilson interacting with his wife, whom he clearly adored, and his daughter.
Stamp is a revelation as Wilson. Lean, focused, his blazing blue eyes looking like they could pierce steel, this is a fearsome man. You never stand between a man and his daughter, you never put the father in a situation where he is forced to get information using violence … because he will. Muscular, in a lean, sinewy way, the actor is a force of nature, the eye of the hurricane as it hits land. I said when I saw the film he deserved an Oscar nomination then, and I stand by that. The character does not say a lot, but he does a lot, and it is one of those times actions speak louder than words. You cannot help but be chilled to the bone when he roars at those running from him, “you tell them I’m commmmmiiiinnnngggg”, dragging out that last word with a near growl. Easily the finest work of his career, yes he was robbed of Oscar attention.
As smarmy Scott Valentine, veteran Peter Fonda is excellent, perfectly capturing a sixties love child who fell into music and money. Haunted by the death of Wilsons’ daughter, it is discovered he truly loved her and mourns her in silence.
Equally fine are Lesley Anne Warren as the pretty lady Wilson encounters and confides in, and Nicky Katt as a bored hit man, bored with his work, bored with life in general.
All of them are the debris captured in the air around the storm that is Wilson.
The Limey is a taut, tight film with a compelling, driving narrative building to an inevitable confrontation, a lean fine narrative with nothing wasted.
John H. Foote is a well-recognized Canadian film critic/historian who has been an active critic for 30 years. His deep love for the movies began at a very young age. He began his career as co-host of the popular TV show Reel to Real where he remained for nine years. While on TV he began dabbling in education, eventually ascending to Director of the Toronto Film School, where he also taught film history. After leaving the college to care for his wife, he returned to teaching at Humber College where he taught both Film History and Method Acting Theory. John has written two books: “Clint Eastwood – Evolution of a Filmmaker” and the upcoming “Spielberg – American Film Visionary”. He is currently working on two books, one about the films of the seventies and another on the films of Martin Scorsese. Through his career he has worked in TV, radio, print and the web. John has interviewed everyone in the industry (more than 300 interviews) except Jack Nicholson, he says sadly. Highlights include Martin Scorsese, Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep Robert Duvall, Jane Fonda, Francis Ford Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow.