The Daily Stream: Steven Soderbergh Dives Inside the Mind in ‘The Limey’

The Daily Stream: Steven Soderbergh Dives Inside the Mind in ‘The Limey’

(Welcome to The Daily Stream, an ongoing series in which the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching, why it’s worth checking out, and where you can stream it.)

The Movie: The Limey

Where You Can Stream It: Amazon Prime, Hoopla, Kanopy

The Pitch: If you watched the Bob Odenkirk-starring Nobody, then it’s time you met the gold standard for the “Older man goes on a vengeance-driven killing spree” subgenre of action movies. But those who go in expecting a simple, straightforward story are doomed to be thrown for a loop. The Limey stands apart from its peers in form and function, using unconventional editing to get viewers right into the headspace of its raging main character as he hunts for the man responsible for his daughter’s death. Terence Stamp has never been more formidable (or terrifying) and Steven Soderbergh has rarely been better.

Why It’s Essential Viewing: Right from its opening seconds, The Limey messes with our preconception of time. The first few scenes are equal parts engaging and disorienting as Soderbergh denies us the opportunity to get on solid footing. Before we know it, we’re following the spiraling, violence-filled steps of an Englishman named Wilson (Stamp) through a crisscrossing series of jarring cuts between seemingly disconnected moments. This serves as our first taste of Soderbergh’s inventive technique (largely created out of desperation to save an ineffective first cut) in taking what was on-page in Lem Dobbs script and giving us a visceral sense of Wilson’s fractured state of mind.

Set to the strains of “The Seeker” by The Who (see what Soderbergh did there?), the movie starts unassumingly enough with Wilson arriving in Los Angeles and getting himself settled in for what promises to be a dark and obsessive quest. From his accent to his age to his appearance, he is woefully out of place everywhere he goes. But our first real indication that something’s amiss comes when we suddenly cut from Wilson looking at a written address to Wilson at the door of that address. The following moments are subsequently intercut with silent, disparate images of Wilson staring off into the distance while on a flight or brief glimpses of his daughter when she was young, all with the haunting sound of wind chimes steadily increasing in the background of the mix.

This doesn’t make total logical sense in the moment (nor is it meant to), but Soderbergh isn’t going for logic here. He constantly goes back to tricks like these to evoke intangibles such as the messiness of memory, of stream of consciousness, of pain itself. The other major tool in his arsenal involves taking otherwise basic scenes where Wilson talks to another character, and scattering these conversations over the course of different locations and times. Through the magic of editing (this is where we heap praise on both Soderbergh and especially editor Sarah Flack), splicing these scenes together gives the appearance of one fluid sequence of dialogue despite our rational minds telling us that this shouldn’t be possible. Dramatically speaking, it’s as if Wilson is recalling the same conversation after the fact … but with the inherent flaws and imperfections that come with the human capacity for memory.

The effect this has on the overall film goes far beyond what you might expect. In typical Soderbergh style, The Limey reveals itself to be more than what it seems to be on the surface. Wilson may be a dangerous and unhinged maniac, willing to throw people off cliffs at a moment’s notice just as impetuously as he daydreams of shooting his target, Valentine (Peter Fonda), no less than three different ways before cooler heads prevail, but the shockingly understated conclusion of his murderous rampage adds an entire new appreciation for every character involved — to say nothing of Soderbergh himself, who once again proves his talent in paying off earlier set-ups that viewers never even thought were set-ups in the first place.

The Limey gets its hands dirty in bringing viewers down to the level of Wilson and his nemesis, but isn’t that just another way to create audience empathy towards unlikable, immoral characters? Soderbergh digs deep into the mind of Wilson and, in the process, makes us reflect on ourselves, too.

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