On March 31, 1999, The Matrix opened in theaters and broke ground. It forever changed the way that action and sci-fi films were seen and made here in America. But before Lana and Lilly Wachowski were able to make this happen, they first had to prove themselves when it came to being in the director’s chair. After writing comic books for Marvel like Ectokid, Clive Barker’s Hellraiser, and Clive Barker’s Nightbreed, they moved on to writing screenplays. When their screenplay for the Sylvester Stallone/Antonio Banderas action film Assassins was heavily rewritten (so much that they both attempted to have their names removed from the screenplay but to no success) because its director, the late Richard Donner, thought it was too dark and intense, they decided that they would need to direct their own screenplays to prevent something like this from happening again.
And so, the Wachowskis made their directorial debut with the film Bound, which opened in theaters on October 4, 1996.
After serving five years in prison, Corky (Gina Gershon) is released and given a job doing painting and plumbing in a Chicago apartment building. This is where she meets Caesar (Joe Pantoliano), a well-connected gangster, and Violet (Jennifer Tilly), his incredibly gorgeous girlfriend, both of whom live next door to the apartment that Corky is currently renovating. Violet is not shy in letting Corky know how much she’s attracted to her, and it doesn’t take long for the two of them to finally act on that attraction. Violet has also grown tired of being with Caesar and made to feel powerless because of who and what he is, so when he suddenly brings home $2 million that is covered in the blood of a fellow gangster who skimmed it from their boss (and got shot in the head as a result, hence all of the blood), she approaches Corky on coming up with a plan for them to take the money and run while laying all of the blame for it at Caesar’s feet. Their plan is a brilliant one, but that doesn’t stop things from going absolutely wrong, or Caesar proving to be far more cunning than either of them expected. This leaves both Violet and Corky struggling to stay one step ahead of Caesar, his fellow gangsters, and the Chicago Police Department.
Depending on who you ask, the main reason why Bound received so much attention when it was originally released was because of the sex scene between Violet and Corky, which was choreographed by writer/sex educator Susie Bright, who makes a cameo in the film as Jessie, a woman in a lesbian bar who Corky flirts with right up until Jessie’s girl announces her presence. (FYI: Nearly all of the women who were background extras in that lesbian bar were friends of Susie’s, or as she affectionately called them, “real-life San Francisco dykes.”) Since YouTube wasn’t a thing back in the ’90s, a lot of straight men who enjoy watching lesbian sex sought out the film for that reason only.
(If you’re reading this, and expected me to embed a video of the actual sex scene between Violet and Corky in this article, this message from Dustin is for you…)
There is no denying that seeing Violet and Corky be intimate with one another is sexy to watch (it’s also the kind of sex scene that would cause Twitter to once again indulge in discourse and debate the very popular topic as to whether or not there should be any sex scenes in movies), but that is only one of the reasons why Bound is worth watching and still worth discussing after almost three decades. The wonderful score composed by Don Davis. The stunning cinematography by Bill Pope. The writing and directing by the Wachowskis, which is both skillful and playful. They’re having plenty of fun with the story they’re telling — and it has the audience holding their breath. The pitch-black humor on display is reminiscent of the Coen brothers and their work in crime fiction, particularly Blood Simple and Fargo. The fact that none of the characters are carrying the Idiot Ball in order to push the story forward and generate suspense to make us wonder what will happen next. Instead, the audience stays on their toes because the characters are smart enough to know what they’re doing, how to do it, and think about what moves the other characters will possibly make. (Granted, the moment where Caesar kills his boss, his boss’s son, and their bodyguard comes off less like idiocy, and more like desperation and self-preservation as a result of being backed into a corner. As Corky herself admits when asked by Violet what she’ll do if she is confronted by Caesar while stealing the money, “If he does…then I’ll have no choice, will I?” while showing her a pearl-handled .38.)
Of course, there are the three main performances that carry this film and make it such an absolute pleasure to watch.
Ever since he first grabbed Hollywood’s attention with his role as Guido the Killer Pimp in Risky Business, Pantoliano has been a welcome presence in nearly everything he has appeared in, and his role in Bound is no different. Caesar is loud, arrogant, homophobic (especially when he learns the truth about Violet and Corky), eager to impress the gangsters that he works for, and much better at staying cool under pressure than expected despite his temper tantrums. He truly believes that Violet thinks the world of him, that her life would be nothing without him, and that she doesn’t have the guts to pull the trigger when it’s necessary. As Violet tells him when it comes to what he thinks he knows about her, “Caesar…you don’t know sh-t.” Not surprisingly, Pantoliano provides some of the funniest moments in the film, even when he simply catches his breath and regains his composure by saying “F-cking dark in here.”
Before she played Corky and before we Ted Lasso fans discovered that she once dated Roy Kent, Gina Gershon was last seen in Showgirls as Cristal, the ruthless and fiercely competitive casino showgirl who butts heads with Nomi Malone (Elizabeth Berkley). In order to prepare for what Bound needed from her, Gershon cut her hair and nails, took up boxing lessons, and changed how her entire physique and persona would be viewed onscreen, as she wanted to channel actors like Marlon Brando, Robert Mitchum, and James Dean. That mission was accomplished from the moment that Corky is introduced riding the elevator with Violet and Caesar. She’s tough, direct, doesn’t say more than she needs to, unapologetic about who and what she wants, and is incredibly good when it comes to “the redistribution of wealth.” She’s smart enough to know exactly what she’s getting herself into when it comes to stealing money from the mob, but that doesn’t mean that she isn’t willing or able to do it anyway. (If you love competence porn and enjoy watching movies and television shows with smart and talented people doing their work that shows just how smart and talented they are, the scene in which Corky breaks down her master plan with Violet step by step, while also showing us her master plan as it’s carried out, should certainly put a smile on your face.)
One thing we should know about Violet is that nobody really knows Violet and what really makes her tick. When she’s in the presence of men, her voice is in seductive baby-doll mode to ensure their protection of her. When she’s with Corky, her voice is much more natural. The fact that none of these men knows or cares who Violet really is makes it easy for them to overlook her unhappiness in their presence, and miss that she is enough of a puppet master who is capable of doing whatever it takes to fool them all so she can finally put them all in her rearview mirror. And when Caesar confronts her at gunpoint about her deception and her relationship with Corky, he finally realizes that Violet is not the glass ballerina he always thought she was, as she easily calls him out on his bullsh-t and makes it clear that she respects him as much as she respects the contents of her toilet.
Before he blessed us all with those glorious yeeks of his on Oz and Law And Order: Special Victims Unit, Christopher Meloni made a brief appearance in Bound as Johnnie Marzzone, who is even louder and more arrogant than Caesar, due to the fact that his father and his uncle are both capos in The Chicago Outfit, and feels that respect is instantly owed to him by Caesar because of it.
Bound wasn’t the biggest success at the box-office (it had a $6 million budget and only took in about $7 million), but it received many positive reviews from critics, and its popularity increased not too long after it was released on home video and DVD. It won the Grand Jury Award — Honorable Mention at the L.A. Outfest in 1996, and the GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding (wide-release) Film the following year. It also provided some of the best onscreen representation for the LGBTQ community during a decade when they were practically having to fight for table scraps just to receive acknowledgment that wasn’t insulting or stereotypical.
Yes, Ellen De Generes broke plenty of ground when both she and her character on her self-titled television series came out of the closet. But Doug Savant’s character Matt wasn’t even allowed to be seen kissing another man on Melrose Place, the relationship between Tom Hanks and Antonio Banderas in Philadelphia barely allowed any physical displays of affection between the two of them (when they weren’t being portrayed as saintly and outstanding role models), and when most other portrayals of gay characters gave them the attention they demanded and deserved, it was either done in a comical manner that seemingly made it easier for audiences to not take them very seriously and see them as sidekicks/BFFs for straight women, or overly serious portrayals where their entire presence was like a Very Special Episode made solely to teach the audience about homosexuality and AIDS. Such anvils needed to be dropped when it came to letting more people know that the LGBTQ community was deserving then and are still deserving now of acceptance and respect, but there also needed to be better and subtler characterization in these stories that were being told. Bound may not be your first or second choice for people looking for that in the films that they watch, but it’s certainly better than many of the current films and television shows that do nothing but queer-bait and offer only the smallest of crumbs in LGBTQIA+ representation and expect to be given all of the cookies for doing so.
As we already know, Lana and Lilly Wachowski would go on to write and direct The Matrix after making Bound. Their careers took off, and the two would go on to make The Matrix Reloaded, The Matrix Revolutions, Speed Racer, V For Vendetta (which they adapted the screenplay for, and whether you choose to believe the rumors that it was the two of them who directed the film and not James McTeigue is entirely up to you), Cloud Atlas, Jupiter Ascending, and the Netflix series Sense8, which they co-created with J. Michael Straczynski.
This December, the newest chapter of The Matrix will make its debut in theaters and on HBO Max simultaneously: The Matrix Resurrections, starring Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Jessica Henwick, Neil Patrick Harris, and Jonathan Groff. (If you pay close attention to the trailer as it begins, you’ll notice an Easter egg that pays tribute to Bound.) Much like how this year’s The Tragedy Of Macbeth will be the first film that writer-director Joel Coen makes without his brother and fellow writer-director, Ethan, Lana Wachowski directed and co-wrote this film without the assistance of her sister, Lilly.
If you like watching film noir, and you’re looking for something that isn’t focused on straight white men indulging in the usual gunplay and sexual escapades while spitting hard-boiled dialogue, but instead shows two women in love as they outsmart everyone around them and avoid getting buried as they earn their Happily Ever After, then Bound is definitely the movie for you.
Bound is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
Header Image Source: Gramercy Pictures