Shorn to bare-bones description, The Limey reads like an arrow-straight revenge story, no less banal in its mechanics than Death Wish or an old western. Of course, no one is more aware of this than director Steven Soderbergh, a sure-handed and increasingly eclectic stylist with a knack for taking basic genre elements and scrambling them into something fresh and formally exciting. Just as Soderbergh's Out Of Sight playfully retools the gritty funk of '70s B-pictures, The Limey is a clever and meaningful homage to fractured late-'60s classics, particularly John Boorman's Point Blank and Richard Lester's Petulia. But the film cuts deeper than mere nostalgia. In roles that richly evoke their iconic status, Terence Stamp plays a British ex-con intent on tracking down Peter Fonda, an aging record producer he holds responsible for his daughter's death. No matter how greatly outnumbered, Stamp strong-arms his way through Fonda's sleazy underlings and henchmen with the relentless, single-minded force of Charles Bronson or Dirty Harry-era Clint Eastwood. "Tell me about Jenny" is his peculiar twist on Eastwood's sneering one-liner, "Go ahead, make my day," and it hints at a more sympathetic agenda than cold-blooded revenge. Though immensely satisfying on strict genre terms, The Limey edges into a sad, rueful tone that not only lends poignancy to Stamp's quest to know more about his estranged daughter, but also to its stars' ebbing careers. For the first time in his career, Soderbergh turns his camera on the hazy L.A. skyline; his inspired take on Mulholland Drive, where the lives of the idle rich literally hang on a precipice, subtly informs his themes. The Limey is a throwback to a great period in American cinema, one in which Soderbergh himself would have fit quite nicely.
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