Bound finds its glory on DVD

Jennifer Tilly, Gina Gershon, Joe Pantoliano. Directed by The Wachowski Brothers. Aspect ratio: 1.85:1. Dolby Digital. Two sides. 109 minutes. 1996. Republic ID4628DSDVD. Rated R. $29.95

"I can see again," wisecracks a tattooed lesbian ex-con named Corky after making love with a gangster's moll named Violet. Once sex is out of the way, the real criminal foreplay begins as Violet and Corky merge brains and brawn in a conspiracy to steal $2 million from the mob. They decide to pin the rap on Violet's emotional, money-laundering boyfriend, Cesar, a disgruntled employee of some Chicago-based crime kingpins, while they skate scot-free with the dough.

Bound is a tense, terse film noir that's long on style, form, violence, and sex. It's full of tongue-in-cheek wordplay that can be traced to Quentin Tarantino or any of the countless mimics of the indie-film genre who depend so heavily on one-liners, barrels of blood, and scams gone awry. But Bound transcends the easy '90s territorial marking and pushes harder for a classic '40s Ida Lupino feel. If it must be compared to anything recent, it's more like William Friedkin's To Live and Die in L.A. than anything else. Like that brutal thriller, it doesn't seem "new" at all, just atmospheric and dark---as if the people who inhabit their underbelly world of crime and death never surface during daylight.

Opening with wide shots of art-deco apartments, long stairwells, and angled rooms, Bound feels like a claustrophobic foray into licentiousness and places we were warned against as kids. Its minimal narrative snakes and squirms through violence and betrayal toward a funny, ruthless conclusion about the virtues of trust. Thankfully, the film never feels ashamed of the fact that it portrays its women as hard-core "masculine" characters while playing its equally strong male counterpart in the usual "emotional" female lead.

Rumor has it that the actresses who play the conniving women---Gina Gershon as ex-con Corky, Jennifer Tilly as the desperate, dismally unhappy Violet---pushed hard to recruit actor Joe Pantoliano for the role of Cesar. Their campaign paid off: Pantoliano has a tense, wrought face that the camera loves; combined with writers/directors Larry and Andy Wachowski's unusually gifted flair for obtuse camera angles and subdued lighting and set design, this enhances the story's subtextual elements.

While other home-video formats merely eke the film out, DVD brings Bound to your home as it should be seen. For example, the tight, close-up head shots and framing are beautifully emphasized in the DVD format. Perhaps this is because the Wachowskis have made such a visually intricate film that it takes an advanced technology---or at least a second screening---to appreciate its nuances and arch humor.

Indeed, Bound depends on the little touches to make it work. The film suffered in its VHS release because the sound doesn't bear witness to the subtle noises that nearly become supporting characters themselves, as does Don Davis' moody, frenetic score (which, sadly, has never been released separately). DVD brings those small, echoing wonders to the fore---water dripping ominously, a telephone ringing in an adjoining room, a buzzing doorbell that signals the arrival of the cops in the midst of a bloodbath, a scratchy violin barely piercing the surface as Cesar discovers he's been set up---allowing the viewer to enjoy their plot-enhancing touches.

The Wachowskis never miss a beat as they pile up the suspense and the dead bodies, but we still believe we've seen more than we actually have. It hardly matters that Bound follows all the rules of classic film noir while shifting sex roles and making other contemporary changes. The trip is so tensely rigged, and the characters are so darkly unscrupulous, that the film becomes a sexy, wanton joyride to hell and back that keeps us, um, tied to the screen.

The Wachowski brothers provide a running commentary on a director's track, in which they talk about the actors and making the film. The actors themselves make guest appearances and have fun talking about love and death on the set.

Like Double Indemnity or The Big Sleep, Bound is destined to become a classic after years of speculation and maybe even under-appreciation.