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The Limey (1999)


Charles Murtaugh has recently been assembling a list of best conservative films and he's been advocating for The Limey.  So the wife and I are watching it and she asks : "How can this be conservative when the hero's an armed robber who goes around shooting people?"  Her hesitancy is understandable, but I think there are a couple of elements that do indeed make it conservative (though I'll let Charles speak for himself as to why he chose it).

The first, and more obvious, reason to consider this a conservative film is that the basic plot structure is built around the notion that if you plop a principled man--the limey and ex-con, Wilson (Terrence Stamp)--down in the midst of unprincipled men--drug-dealing Terry Valentine (Peter Fonda) and his henchmen--it is the man of principle who is most dangerous because he will keep moving forward inexorably until his principles are vindicated.   Admittedly, the values that Wilson adheres to may not be right out of the classic Judeo-Christian playbook, but he does nonetheless have a strict and uncompromising set of rules that govern his life, among which are the necessity to wreak vengeance on the men who killed his daughter.  Meanwhile, for Valentine and company, there are no behavioral standards, no morals to be followed; all is negotiable and nothing else matters but your own survival.  It is a sad commentary on the state of American culture that the filmmakers felt it necessary to make Wilson so overtly alien (not just British, which we fawningly associate with higher standards in all things, but lower-class British so that his accent and vocabulary make him even more of a fish out of water).  When a DEA agent says to Wilson, "You're not from around here, are you?", he is presumably referring not just to his national origin but also to how different he is from the laid-back Californians amongst whom he's now operating.  Wilson's savage morality is sadly just as foreign to us as is his Cockney slang.

The other aspect of the movie that makes it particularly conservative is the way in which Peter Fonda's character references the character he played in Easy Rider (1969).  Stamp is clearly supposed to be portraying an older version of the character he played in Poor Cow (1967), to the point where director Soderbergh even uses film clips from that earlier role.  But not many of us will ever have seen that film.  Easy Rider, on the other hand, is a touchstone of 60s culture and a key to understanding the era.  Fonda and Dennis Hopper are counterculture antiheroes, riding around on their motorcycles in search of America.  Along the way they find drugs, hippies, mimes, Jack Nicholson, cops, etc.  And in the famous ending of the film America finally catches up to them, as a pickup full of rednecks shotguns Fonda and Hopper right off of their bikes.  In many ways the finale drew a line across the culture, and whether you rooted for the bikers or the truckers defined which side of the line you were on.  As the 1968 election and 1972 re-election of the loathsome but "law-and-order" Richard Nixon demonstrated to the Left's chagrin, most of us were rooting for the guys with shotguns.

Since Fonda's character presumably died at the end of Easy Rider, he's not explicitly playing the same character in The Limey.  But it's easy to imagine that this is what that biker (like so many of his generation) would have turned into--ammoral, self-absorbed, faux spiritual, cashing in on both the music of the 60s (he's a record producer) and the drugs (gone is any pretense that they'll bring enlightenment; they're just easy money).  As Fonda preens around the screen with his fake tan, his over white teeth, and his vapid young girlfriend; moving between his ostentatious LA canyon home and his Big Sur bungalow; mouthing inanities about the meaning of the 60s; any conservative who's worth his salt will be salivating at the prospect of watching him get whacked again.

So, The Limey may not be conservative in the obvious way that say It's a Wonderful Life and A Man for All Seasons are, but there's much here to warm the cockles of a right-wing whacko's heart.  Point taken, Mr. Murtaugh.

(Reviewed:17-Mar-02)

Grade: (B+)

Websites:

See also:

    -FILMOGRAPHY : Steven Soderbergh (Imdb.com)
    -Steven Soderbergh Online
    -Out of Sight : an online tribute to steven soderbergh
    -INTERVIEW : with Richard Lester (Steven Soderbergh, November 8, 1999, Guardian Unlimited)
    -INTERVIEW : Emotion, Truth, and Celluloid : Filmmaker Steven Soderbergh talks about personal films, "Help!" director Richard Lester and striking out at the movies. (Michael Sragow, Jan. 6, 2000, Salon)
    -INTERVIEW : with Steven Soderbergh (Sam Adams, October 7-14, 1999, Philadelphia City Paper)
    -INTERVIEW : with Steven Soderbergh (Keith Phipps, Onion AV Club)
    -INTERVIEW : STEVEN SODERBERGH UNLEASHED (Chris Gore, 3/25/2001, Film Threat)
    -INTERVIEW : Now he just might win an Oscar John Patterson talks to director Steven Soderbergh (January 18, 2001 The Guardian)
    -INTERVIEW : Sex, lies, and cops. (Interview, July 01 1998 by Graham Fuller)
    -PROFILE : THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF DIRECTOR STEVEN SODERBERGH (Los Angeles Magazine, January 01 2001 by Steve Erickson)
    -PROFILE : Salon.com People : Steven Soderbergh (Stephen Lemons, Dec. 20, 2000, Salon)
    -PROFILE : Steven Soderbergh - The Filmmaker Series (Anne Thompson, December 2000, Premiere)
    -PROFILE : Steven Soderbergh: Man of promise (13 February, 2001, BBC News)
    -PROFILE : What's So Great About Steven Soderbergh? (Jeremiah Kipp, Film Critic)
    -PROFILE: Director Steven Soderbergh has his own approach (LUAINE LEE, Scripps Howard News Service, December 20, 2000, NANDO Times)
    -ARCHIVES : "steven soderbergh" (Find Articles)
    -ARCHIVES : "steven soderbergh" (Mag Portal)
    -FILM SITE : The Limey (Official Site)
    -INFO : The Limey (Imdb.com)
    -INFO : The Limey (Rotten Tomatoes)
    -REVIEW : of The Limey (Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times)
    -REVIEW : of The Limey (James Berardinelli's ReelViews)
    -REVIEW : of The Limey (James Bowman)
    -REVIEW : of The Limey (Stephanie Zacharek, Salon)
    -REVIEW : of The Limey (Charles Taylor, Salon)
    -REVIEW : of The Limey (David Edelstein, Slate)
    -REVIEW : of The Limey (Jaime N. Christley, Film Written Magazine)
    -REVIEW : of The Limey (Jason Murphy, Christian Spotlight on the Movies)
    -REVIEW : of The Limey (Michael Elliott, Movie Parables)
    -REVIEW : of The Limey (Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly)
    -REVIEW : of The Limey (Emanuel Levy, Variety)
    -REVIEW : of The Limey (Kerry Douglas Dye, LeisureSuit.net)
    -REVIEW : of The Limey (Stuart Klawans, The Nation)
    -REVIEW : of The Limey (Janet Maslin, NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of The Limey (Kevin Thomas, LA Times)
    -REVIEW : of The Limey (Edward Guthmann, SF Chronicle)
    -REVIEW : of The Limey (Rob Blackwelder, SplicedWire)
    -REVIEW : of The Limey (Flick Filosopher)
    -REVIEW : of The Limey (CultureVulture)
    -REVIEW : of The Limey (Sam Adams, Philadelphia City Paper)
    -REVIEW : of The Limey (Marjorie Baumgarten, Austin Chronicle)
    -REVIEW : of The Limey (Bruce Kirkland, Toronto Sun)
    -REVIEW : of The Limey (Paul Tatara, CNN)
    -REVIEW : of The Limey (Adrian Martin, The Age au)
    -REVIEW : of The Limey (Serena Donadoni, Detroit Metro Times)
    -REVIEW : of The Limey (Doug Pratt's DVD Review)
    -REVIEW : of The Limey (Shaun De Waal, ZA Play)
    -REVIEW : of The Limey (Richard von Busack, Metro Active)
    -REVIEW : of The Limey (Stephen Farber, Movieline)
    -REVIEW : of Schizopolis (David Walsh, World Socialist Web Site)
    -REVIEW : of Out of Sight (James Bowman)
    -REVIEW : of Out of Sight (Charles Taylor, Salon)
    -FILM SITE : Traffic (Official Site)
    -REVIEW : of Traffic (Stanley Kaufman, The New Republic)
    -REVIEW : of Traffic (Jason Murphy, Christian Spotlight on the Movies)
    -REVIEW : of Traffic (Scott Heller, American Prospect)
    -REVIEW : of Erin Brocovich (James Bowman)
    -REVIEW : of Ocean's Eleven (James Bowman)
    -FILM SITE : Full Frontal (Official Site)

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