What About it?
(for a full summary of the film, scroll down to "What Happens?")
The Limey is a fascinating piece of work, as much for how it's told as the story it tells. Soderbergh, using scenes from different times in unconventional sequences, he gives a depth to the character's relationships in a very short time, that I can't imagine being possible otherwise. We realize at the end of the movie that Wilson has been on the plane ride home since the beginning, so for him what happens next is the past, although we're still seeing it as it unfolds. This allows it to be a much deeper story than a simple revenge thriller, and allows Wilson a depth of his own that wouldn't have been believable in any other way. The sequence where Wilson meets his daughter's friend Elaine shows the potential brilliantly. We get to see Wilson and Elaine at their first awkward meeting, while at the same time seeing thing sitting down at a table, and going for a casual stroll. The earlier parts inform the later parts while we watch them both, while the conversation runs at it's own pace filling in gaps, not always logically but emotionally matching the scenes we dwell on. This technique also allows us to see Wilson periodically as a young man, reminding us how far he's travelled to become the stoic and weathered warrior who refuses to be stopped. We can actually see the difference in the lines on his face, which also show us how removed he is from the world, as memories of his daughter are all from a very long time ago, as are the happy memories of himself. We witness the young adventurous criminal become the hardened ex prisoner.
This is a film that works so smoothly it's easy to forget how meticulously it was assembled. Soderbergh has complete control of the film and doesn't mind departing from "the way things are done." He uses every tool available; the obvious seperation of dialogue and scene, well placed music, aggressive or background, depending on what's needed, and of course, truly inpired casting choices. He even draws on our knowledge of the actors themselves. The directing is so obvious yet effective, and fluid in this film that it's safe to say that regardless of what you hear about it, it has to be seen to be experienced. It's wonderful to see a director not afraid to blatantly show his hand, and yet making sure his appearance is essential to our connection to the story.
Casting Peter Fonda as a corrupt music producer who continues to profit from the 60's has an interesting affect, using the actor's iconic status during the 60's, particularly from Easy Rider, to highlight how morally bankrupt he is. Fonda's Terry Valentine is despicable but not in an actively malicious way. He seems unable to deal with any sort of crisis, and relies on his money to extricate himself from any mess he's in. Yet, despite his lack of nerve, he's a character that feels entitled to anything he wants. His first scene with young Adhara is a creepy reminder of this. It takes a certain kind of sleaziness to talk with the young woman you're slepping with about having a conversation with her parents about naming her. Valentine is able to get away with his behavior because he can afford it, relying on his security consultant Jim Avery (Barry Newman) to tie up messy details.
Avery seems like more than an employee though, not afraid to speak frankly to Valentine, and not compelled to hide his resentment for the messes he feels shouldn't have been made to begin with. Newman's character is also complex, while he tries to project an air of being able to control everything, it's clear that there are many things he's learning as he goes. His best choice for a hitman alone should make us question how effective he really is. He tells Valentine, "I have other resources" which doesn't quite paint a picture of a local thug who'll kill someone for $5000.00. His hitman is anything but professional and discreet. Avery, however, is not completely incompetent and perfectly willing to chase after Wilson himself, but competent or not, he overestimates his own efficiency, and two mistakes, his poor choice of a hitman(plus lack of secrecy from his own employees) and underestimating Wilson, come back to bite him. Barry Newman's fim history also adds to his character, particularly adding tension to the car chase scene, as Newman is very well known for starring in the classic film, Vanishing Point
Lesley Ann Warren is wonderful as Elaine and watching her relationship with Wilson is another example of the film's willingness to not rely on convention. She becomes very close to Wilson, but never as a romantic interest. She's simply someone who cared about his daughter, and because of that relationship, the only one who knows Wilson at all. Perhaps because of that knowledge, she is never afraid of Wilson, although he looks menacing speaking to her through a gate outside her house. When Wilson muses that Jenny was embarassed about him, and she corrects him, stating that Jenny was not embarrased but disappointed, we can feel that she has some hope for Wilson, even if it's only because she really wants the sad story to improve. She holds her own, without being sexual, just through her emotional investment and knowledge.
Luis Guzman's Ed also adds a needed touch, his soft spoken support and assistance and immediate trust of Wilson tell us eve more about Wilson's character. Ed is not in the least naive, he simply sees Wilson as a guy who needs help getting justice for his daughter, who was also Ed's friend. The fact that Ed is not well off, particularly compared to Valentine adds another contrast. Ed remarks that he's "invisible" to Valentine, which makes it fitting that it's Ed who brings about Valentine answering for what he's done. He is also Wilson's natural connection to this foreign country, having also spent some time in prison, the two have shared an experience that most people have not, and was likely similar, despite being from different countries. As is true with Elaine, Soderbergh's, out of order sequencing gives Ed and Wilson an amazingly full relationship for the time actually spent on screen.
Even with such an astounding cast, the movie belongs to Terence Stamp. He makes Wilson a unique character dressed up as a character we've seen a thousand times. Stamp tells stories here with just a change of expression. Like your conventional "just got out of prison, seeking revenge." stock character, he starts out single minded, but with his own ideas about how to achieve his goal. He approaches the matter sensibly, reasoning before he acts. We see that when he investigates the shady warehouse where Ed tells him Jenny went, he's willing to try and talk first and even take a beating in order to give himself the advantage, when the thugs, content that they've established superiority, don't suspect that he'll pick himself right up off the pavement and kill them all. When Wilson first approaches Valentine, he imagines shooting the man from different distances, but not happy with the result chooses instead to make a point by tossing a bodyguard to his death. He is full of idiosyncracies and it seems he enjoys the effect of his British slang which no one understands. He's completely an outsider, and doesn't really need to be understood completely, as long as like Elaine says, we "know what he means." It's his own understanding that's important. He needs to make sense of his daughter's death and perhaps of his own life. The memories of himself as a young man, make who he and where he is now a great tragedy.
What Wilson needs to learn is something he already knows, as he tells the DEA agent, "I could have got up behind him and snapped his fucking neck, but I left it, I could've nobbled him, but I didn't, cause what I thought I wanted wasn't what I wanted. What I was thinking about was something else. I didn't give a toss. It didn't matter, see? This berk on the bench wasn't worth my time. It meant sod-all in the end, 'cause you gotta make a choice: when to do something, and when to let it go. When it matters, and when it don't. Bide your time. That's what prison teaches you, if nothing else. Bide your time, and everything becomes clear, and you can act accordingly." While Wilson is a man intimidating enough to scare people off with a look, he's also a very thoughtful person.
The final confrontation is essentially a repeat of this lesson. Finally having Valentine at his mercy, he discovers that"what he wanted isn't what he thought he wanted." When he realizes that Jenny's fatal error was a result of behavior she'd learned from dealing with him, he also realizes that her death was his fault as much as Terry Valentine's. Terry's biggest mistake was that he panicked, fearing he was about to lose everything. While Wilson was not at all afraid of facing prison or anything else as far as we know, Terry Valentine was not in the habit of facing anything himself, other than getting what he wanted. And so, faced with the truth, Wilson does something unconventional and realizes "when to let it go," as he can't entirely blame Terry. To hear him telling his story on the plane at the end, it's possible to hope that he's learned something important, and perhaps he can finally stop repeating the same mistakes. The Limey starts out as a simple revenge film, but ultimately becomes so much more, a story about making a choice, "When it matters and when it don't."
Wilson (Terence Stamp) snarls to a black screen "Tell me. Tell me. Tell me about Jenny." cuing the Who's song "The Seeker to play as we get our first look at Wilson, an aged but determined looking man, dressed entirely in black, who makes his way from the airport to a hotel room. He looks at a newspaper clipping about a woman's death and at a California address for an "Ed Roel" written on an envelope. He quickly finds Ed Roel (Luis Guzman)
We then see Wilson flashing between a car, an airplane, and his room, thinking about a little girl. We resume the scene meeting Ed Roel, and Wilson introduces himself telling Ed that he had written to Wilson about his daughter. Ed realizes who Wilson is and asks him in the house. Ed makes some food, but Wilson isn't interested in small talk. He asks Ed, "Who done it then, snuffed her?" Ed tells him he never said anyone "snuffed her." just sent the newspaper clipping. He tells Wilson that there was an investigation into the accident and his daughter's neck was broken on impact "so she wouldn't have felt the effects of the fire." Ed drives Wilson around and rationalizes that an accident could happen to anybody. Wilson replies, "No. Not my girl. Self control she had. It was a point of pride." Wilson pushes Ed for information on where Jenny bought her "grass or whatever." Ed claims he doesn't know anything about that, and Wilson mentions his tattoos. Ed explains that he did five years in prison, but he's done with that. Wilson surprises him by saying "I just got out meself, didn't I." Wilson changes the conversation, asking "Terry Valentine, this bloke she was bunked up with, what's he got to say for himself?" Ed has no idea about Terry Valentine.
We see Wilson buying a pistol from a couple of kids, the scene flashing back to previous scenes of the hotel, the airplane, driving, and talking at Ed's house. Ed recalls driving Jenny downtown to look for Terry Valentine. He assumed she was looking to catch him with another girl, but was surprised she didn't want to check hotels, but asked him to bring her to "some bad place." where there was shipping going on and men unloading trucks. Valentine wasn't there but Ed says "Jenny stood right in front of those guys, eyeballing them, checking them out. She made me feel like she was covering my ass." We see Wilson alone, finding the place Ed referred to. Wilson cuts a lock to enter the fenced in property, and walks into the building asking the first man he sees at a desk if he knows Terry Valentine. When the man doesn't tell him anything, Wilson starts beating the man, before a bunch of men show up to pull him away. The man at the desk wants to know who Wilson is, and when he mentions Jennifer Wilson, one of the other men asks if she was the girl that came down there one time. The man admits that Terry Valentine is a personal friend, and says he doesn't discuss his friends with anybody. He tells Wilson that Jennifer had come by asking who he was and how he knew Terry and the nature of their business. He then asks Wilson "You know what I would've liked to have done to her? [whispers in Wilson's ear] I bet she would've liked that, huh? It's too bad she had to take a nosedive off that cliff, probably dried her all up." Wilson can't contain himself and strikes the man in the groin, prompting quick retaliation as the other men ensure Wilson can't respond. They escort Wilson out of the office, taking turns kicking him and throwing him into things on the way out. They throw him onto the pavement and tell him if he comes back they'll kill him. Wilson gets up and pulls a gun tucked in the back of his pants. He walks right back into the building and we hear they're surprised to see him, then several shots. One of the men runs away and Wilson yells after him "You tell him. You tell him I'm coming. Tell him I'm fucking coming!"
We then hear two men discussing this message at a huge Mansion by the ocean. We see Terry Valentine (Peter Fonda) the owner, who watches a girl swimming and talks about her name, Adhara (Amelia Heinle) remembering that he had suggested using a constellation to her parents before they named her. He asks if she needs anything. She asks why he keeps "the scary man" in his house, to which he says "Gordon? He's been with me for years. He's not as tough as he looks."
Adhara: Then what good is he?
Valentine: Heard of loyalty?
Adhara: Yeah, one of the things that make me happy.
She then remarks that Valentine is not a person as "You're not specific enough to be a person. You're more like a vibe." Jim Avery (Barry Newman) watches from overheard and yells to Terry that he has news. He tells Terry "Our friends downtown, someone took them out." Gordon tells him it was similar to a gangland slaying.
Terry: Who? Blacks!
Avery: No Terry, it's not their style. Now from what I gather, it was a lone gunman.
Terry: Lone gunman? Oh jeez, you sound like the five o'clock news. Why are you telling me all this shit?
Avery: Well, as long as you don't know about it. I didn't want you to hear about it and then freak out.
Terry: Oh fuck you Jim, I don't freak out anymore
Avery: Oh...Well it's probably nothing. That's usually what senseless mayhem comes down to isn't it? Bad loan, bad judgment, bad faith. These are bad people involved in worse people. Cops got a lot of leads to follow. [we see Wilson walking into the warehouse again]
Terry: Great. As long as nobody can connect anything to me.
Avery: Oh no, no no. No one's gonna connect anything to you. [We see Wilson has Terry's address from a rolodex] That was a one off deal, a moving freight train. You hopped on, you hopped off. Anything else, I woulda had you walk away. You never saw those guys again, right? [We see the lead warehouse guy surprised to see Wilson again.]
Terry: Are you crazy? They're your friends, not mine. What, your clients?
Avery: I befriended them when you needed them. Let's put it that way.
Avery tells him that the one guy who got away had described the shooter as a crazy guy, who screamed "Tell him I'm coming."
Avery reminds him "no one can link anything to you." Terry answers "Jenny did." Avery answers "Yeah well Jenny could. She already got to you."
Ed tells Wilson that Terry Valentine was a "money guy." and that Jenny had been with him for five years. He remarks that Jenny had introduced him to Terry, but Terry "didn't even see him." and that they lived in different social circles, and that he'd met Jenny in his acting class.
Wilson finds Elaine (Lesley Ann Warren) a friend of Jenny's, who tells him "She was twenty one when she came to me, straight from leaving you." Elaine helped Jenny get rid of her English accent. We flashback to his first meeting with her and she knows who he is immediately and asks "Why did you come here?"
Wilson: Get a few things sorted out.
Elaine: Been busy, have you?
Wilson: How do you mean?
Elaine: I heard you were, what is that adorable expression, at her majesty's pleasure?
Wilson: It was the bars, then.
Elaine: The Wembley Stadium job? That was it, right? Pink Floyd concert receipts?
Wilson: Earning interest, in an offshore account. Tidy little premium, per annum, no?
Elaine: Security like that can't be bought.More comforting than having a daughter to greet you?
Elaine doesn't let him in her place, but we see them talking later. He tells Elaine that Jenny's mother died, while watching flashbacks of Wilson and Jenny's mother when they were young. He says 'we was always mates, Jenny's mum and me. I like to think they're together now. You know, heavenly choir." He tells Elaine that he knew when Jenny died before he got the letter from Ed, as he felt all the blood drain out of his head. He's surprised that Jenny told Elaine anything about him as "she was always so embarassed."
Elaine: Not embarrassed.
Elaine. Not ashamed. Disappointed.
Elaine tells him that Terry Valentine is a rock and roll promoter, who packaged the 60's and "made off like a bandit." SHe asks him "So what's the deal? You and Terry Valentine at 20 paces?
Wilson: I don't see why not.
Elaine: Are you serious?
Wilson: Have you ever known me not to be?
Elaine: Oh, you fucking guys and your dicks man!
Wilson: What do you expect me to do? Stay at home, doing sweet F.A.?
Elaine: You don't believe it was a car accident?
Wilson: Oh yeah...She fell asleep at the wheel.
Elaine: Terry is never gonna give you that satisfaction. He is not the type.
Wilson: Depends, doesn't it?
Elaine: On what? What makes you so certain?
Wilson: I'll bloody ask him.
Elaine: Fine, there's the phone. You want his number?
Wilson: I've got his number.
Wilson meets with Ed again, who tells him, "Whatever toy gotta do man, better go do it." Ed goes along as Wilson scopes out Terry's place with binoculars. They realize Terry's having a party when they see a lot of valets. They then show up at the party. Terry is in the bathroom, with Adhara talking to her while she bathes. She remarks on a 60's Santana poster and he asks her "Have you ever dreamed about a place. you never really recalled being to before? A place that maybe only exists in your imagination. Someplace far away. half remembered when you wake up. When you were there though, you knew the language. You knew your way around. That was the 60's. No. It wasn't that either. It was just '66 and early '67. That's all it was."
Ed and Wilson check out the party. Wilson tells him "I'm gonna have a butcher's round the house." Ed seems concerned not realizing this is slang. He asks "Who you gonna butcher?" Wilson says "Butcher's hook, look." and then heads upstairs to look around. He sees a picture in the hall and remembers Jenny as a little girl. Terry joins the party and tlaks with guests as Wilson checks out his bedroom, hiding when Adhara has to get out of the master bathroom tub to get the phone. Wilson goes downstair and finds Ed standing by the pool. Wilson realizes the pool is built to extend out into the air with a long drop outside the railing. He imagines shooting Terry at several different ranges, nearly walking right up to him before Ed pulls him back outside. Terry notices the way Wilson looked at him and Avery sends a man out to remove Wilson, who has sent Ed to grab the car. Wilson tosses the security man over the railing catching the party's attention. Everyone rushes to look over the side. Avery attempts to grab Ed who is waiting with the car, but Wilson throws him out of the way and they drive off. Ed tells Wilson he thought he was going to cap the guy, but Wilson insists that "he's gotta know why." Ed asks "You think a guy like that ever will?" Avery follows them, hitting their car and then firing a shotgun at them. Wilson forces Ed to hit Reverse and nearly hits Avery, knocking his car down a ledge.
Avery meets with Terry, and scolds him for talking to the police without him. Terry told them that a longtime employee with drug problems flipped out and commited suicide. Avery reveals that Jenny's father just got out of prison for armed robbery "again." which gets Terry flustered. Terry insists that he can't take care of Wilson using his own security as it could be connected to him.
Terry: Oh man, this is all too close to me.
Avery: Well you know something Terry? People close to you keep falling into canyons.
Avery assures him that he has "other resources."
We then find some guys arguing over a break at a pool hall. One of the guys, Stacy (Nicky Katt) beats another guy with a cue as Avery walks in and calls him over. Avery asks "How would you like to kill someone for me." Stacy says "Ok." Stacy is upset that he's supposed to find Wilson, telling Avery. "I just do it. I don't organize it." Stacy tells a friend he's getting paid $5000.00 for the hit. Stacy and his friend start watching Elaine at work and Wilson shows up to see her. They follow him to his hotel and Stacy is stopped by a DEA agent, who tells Wilson to go with them. They bring Wilson and Elaine to another location. Left alone for a moment, Wilson tells Elaine that he watched Jenny grow up "in increments." He remembers Jenny used to threaten him, "If you're naughty, Dad, I'll put the law on you. I promise. He recalls her in flasback as a little girl picking up the phone threatening to "shop him." Elaine says "She never would have turned you in, not in a million years." He recalls that she had a feeling about the last job and told him she wouldn't be around when he got out, "and she wasn't."
The Dea agent meets with him and Wilson tells him he doesn't care what Valentine's mixed up in. He then tells him a story " Let me explain. I was in prison, second time, no, tell a lie, third stretch. There was this screw what really had it in for me, and that geezer was top of my list. So after I got sprung, I sees him in Arnold Park, he's on a bench, feeding bloody pigeons. I could have got up behind him and snapped his fucking neck, but I left it, I could've nobbled him, but I didn't, cause what I thought I wanted wasn't what I wanted. What I was thinking about was something else. I didn't give a toss. It didn't matter, see? This berk on the bench wasn't worth my time. It meant sod-all in the end, 'cause you gotta make a choice: when to do something, and when to let it go. When it matters, and when it don't. Bide your time. That's what prison teaches you, if nothing else. Bide your time, and everything becomes clear, and you can act accordingly.
The agent tells him "There's one thing I don't understand. The thing i don't understand is every mother fucking word you're saying." Wilson tells him that they're likely after the same thing for different reasons. He tells the agent he's not after money, but something else. He reveals that they suspect heroin dealers are using Valentine to hide their money for a commission. The agent then "accidentally" drops a file, showing another address for Valentine and releases Wilson.
We then find Terry Valentine driving with Adhara to the other house. She realizes that the car behind them has been follwing them and Terry says "I sure hope so." as Avery is the one following. Ed and Wilson drive for the other house as well. Terry and Avery arrive and Avery calls Stacy, who gets mad saying "I got chewed out." He then reveals that he knows a guy working for Avery, who told him they were going to Big Sur. Stacy reasons that something's going on, thinking Wilson will follow them there and that somebody must have a big case of money, due to all the trouble involved. Elaine goes along with Ed and Wilson for the ride. On the ride Ed asks Wilson if he has any friends, he responds that he does but a lot of them are gone or changed, and that the last batch he had weren't really friends at all. When they get out of the car, Ed asks Elaine "Do you even understand half the shit this guy says?" Elaine says "No. But I know what he means."
Terry and Avery discuss Wilson coming for him. Avery assures him that he's well protected even if he shows up at the house. Adhara complains that Terry hasn't told her anything about the situation. He tells her that she wouldn't know anything about having enemies. Elaine tells Wilson that Jenny "lived" at the beach and loved the ocean, causing him to remember her at the beach as a girl. He remarks "She was from an island."
At Terry's house security watches all around the property as Avery and Terry watch TV. Everyone pays attention when a car alarm goes off and some guards go check for it. When it shuts off, Terry realizes that a guard who was on the porch is missing. We see Wilson tieing the man up, gagged in the yard. Avery grabs Adhara and moves everybody to the living room hiding behind the couch. Avery shoots at a figure in the window, and going to check he finds it was Stacy. Avery is then shot by Stacy's friend, who also shoots another guard before Avery shoots him while lying on the ground. Wilson then grabs Terry as he's going for the door and fights with him in the house, not realizing that Adhara is behind him with a skewer, which she sticks in his back. Wilson is slowed but follows Terry to the beach across some rocks on the coast. Terry shoots at Wilson but misses. He then hurts his ankle and falls and Wilson catches him. We hear Wilson snarl the lines from the opening.
Wilson: Tell me about Jenny. Tell me about Jenny
Terry: I needed money. I would've given her anything she wanted. But she found out about my deal. She tried to stop me. She said she was gonna turn me in. She said she was gonna call the cops. I couldn't stop it. It had already happened. [Wilson remembers young Jenny picking up the phone and threatening to call the cops] She was gonna call the cops. She meant it. [older Jenny does the same routine] She had the phone in her hand. She was gonna call the cops. She meant it. I couldn't stop it. [Terry struggles with Jenny, and she goes limp, falling to the ground]
We see Gordon and his men finding Terry with blood on his hads, and then a car on fire. WIlson gets up and remembers the little girl. We see him on the plane again. A woman sitting next to him says "I can vever decide what I like better, leaving home or coming back." Wilson says "I prefer staying home, me." [We see Elaine treating his back] THe woman adds "So you are a reluctant traveller."
Wilson: I got called up to LA, unexpected like. Do a job of work [We see Ed, Elaine and Wilson driving, and Wilson givining Ed a hug goodbye]
Woman: No rest for the wicked.
He tells the woman that he spent nine years at sea on an oil rig, and she asks "Is that legal?" He responds "Well time off for good behavior. I shouldn't have even been there. It was these other lads that should've been there in my place. And then, just when I finish me nine years, me contract, Wallop, I have to bugger off to the states."
Woman: Sounds like you need a rest.
Wilson: Yeah, could be.
He remembers singing a song that goes "Freedom is a word I rarely use without thinking of the time when I was loved." We hear Jenny's mother in the background telling him it was good.