The Limey

USA 1999

Reviewed by Philip Strick


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

Released after a nine-year prison term, Cockney criminal Wilson flies to Los Angeles in response to news that his daughter Jenny has been killed in a car accident. Interrogating her friend Ed, Wilson learns she was having an affair with rock promoter Terry Valentine. Attempting to locate Valentine, Wilson is beaten up by thugs apparently associated with him. He shoots them, mystifying Valentine and his security chief Avery.

Acting on information from Jenny's former voice coach Elaine, Wilson gatecrashes a party at Valentine's home, kills a bodyguard and wrecks Avery's car. Avery hires an underworld contact, Stacy, to kill Wilson. Avery, Valentine and Valentine's girlfriend Adhara then retreat to a hideout in Big Sur. Stacy's attack on Wilson and Elaine is thwarted by narcs who reveal Valentine's new location. Wilson finds the place protected by guards. In the ensuing gunfire, complicated by another attack from Stacy, Avery and his various employees kill each other off. Wilson confronts the wounded Valentine on the beach. Recognising that Valentine's relationship with Jenny closely mirrored his own, Wilson leaves and flies back to London.


It was around the middle of filming The Underneath that director Steven Soderbergh admits he lost interest in what he was making. There must have been a brisk mood change because The Underneath is undervalued and something of a treat to watch. But such crises of confidence are surely the secret behind the Soderbergh style, which habitually offers an assortment of disclaimers, distractions and second thoughts. Like most of his leading characters, Soderbergh appears to personify a combination of bravado and vulnerability, two extremes which constantly challenge each other. His protagonists are neither wholly innocent nor irremediably criminal; they are simply trapped by their own fallibility. Which is why the dominating image of Soderbergh's latest film, The Limey, is a wall.

With its montage of flashbacks and flashforwards, images as much from imagination as from memory, The Limey is almost a story that never happened, a fantasy briefly dreamed by airline passenger Wilson, perhaps on his way to Los Angeles, perhaps not. His quest, announced in the darkness punctuating the opening credits, is for knowledge. "Tell me," he says, "about Jenny." The demand is not just for information about his daughter's death but for an understanding of the girl he hasn't seen in nine years. There is now a wall of time and silence between them. Soderbergh fills the screen with it, a towering barricade with Wilson's bowed and labouring figure at its base, heading towards an uncertain turning for as long as it takes. The obstacle reappears as part of the litany of ciphers that flash throughout the film, giving way to less forbidding structures as Wilson achieves progress. Soderbergh has an appreciative eye for angular environments: both Kafka and The Underneath were precisely framed, and The Limey is set against a striking series of elegant confinements until, on the final seashore, the walls have all crumbled.

There is also a satisfying geometry about the relationships in the film, a collection of triangles derived from the matrix represented by Wilson/Valentine (Jenny's lover)/Jenny. As well as the underlying symmetry of two car crashes, there is a near-pedantic matching of Wilson as he arrives and as he departs. One suspects, as Soderbergh goes off at a brief tangent, that his attention has again proved capricious and that the fun of, say, intercutting two bloodied hands (Wilson's and Valentine's) transcends any awkward questions about where the blood came from. He cheerfully whips up a stir of allusions, for example, by filming Wilson through Jenny's former voice coach Elaine's security bars. With singular economy, their unyielding framework represents exclusion, restraint, a reminder of the intruder's criminal background, and, in a wild stretch, the barcodes that are Elaine's stock-in-trade (she moonlights as a checkout girl). Few images are simple when Soderbergh's visual vocabulary is at full volume.

And language itself is a continuing theme: where experiments in French, Italian and Japanese represented attempts for a man and wife to communicate in Schizopolis, words in The Limey are a passport to an era of the Who, the Hollies and other late-60s rock phenomena. "Freedom is a word I rarely use," says Wilson, quoting Donovan to his uncomprehending questioner (who replies: "The thing I don't understand is every word you're saying") while his use of rhyming slang requires frequent - if ponderous - translation. While Terence Stamp and Peter Fonda rest knowingly on their 60s laurels (the concluding extract from Poor Cow, 1967, reprises Donovan but is otherwise more distraction than asset), the film is subtly stolen by Amelia Heinle, joining such actresses as Andie MacDowell, Elisabeth Shue, Betsy Brantley and Jennifer Lopez as the latest in a line of Soderbergh's saving graces.


Steven Soderbergh
John Hardy
Scott Kramer
Lem Dobbs
Director of Photography
Ed Lachman
Sarah Flack
Production Designer
Gary Frutkoff
Cliff Martinez
©Artisan Pictures Inc.
Production Company
Artisan Entertainment presents
Production Office Co-ordinator
David Conley
Unit Production Managers
Fred Brost
Pat Chapman
Location Manager
Kenneth D. Lavet
Post-production Supervisor
Caitlin Maloney
Assistant Directors
Gregory Jacobs
Dave Hallinan
Lisa Bloch
Vincent Gonzales
Script Supervisor
Annie Welles
Debra Zane
ADR Voice:
L.A. MadDogs
Camera Operator
Ray de la Motte
Video Display
Video Supervisor:
Bob Morgenroth
Video Co-ordinator:
Brett Cody
Special Image Manipulation
Digital Visual Effects
Illusion Arts, Inc
Special Effects
Kevin Hannigan
Eric Rylander
Set Decorator
Kathryn Peters
Costume Designer
Louise Frogley
Costume Supervisor
Joyce Kogut
Key Artist:
Rick Sharp
Ken Chase
Raqueli Dahan
Key Hairstylist
Bonnie Clevering
Waldo Sanchez
Deborah Mills-Whitlock
Main Title Design
Howard Anderson Co.
Music Performed by
Michael Williams
David Piltch
Performed by
Strings Arranger/Conductor
Jack Smalley
Music Supervisor
Amanda Scheer-Demme
Music Recordist/Mixer
Leanne Ungar
Recorded by
Reed Ruddy
Music Consultant
Buck Damon
"The Seeker" by Peter Townshend, performed by The Who; "King Midas in Reverse" by Allan Clarke, Tony Hicks, Graham Nash, performed by The Hollies; "Spy", "Limey Vibes", "Moog Song", "Move", "Sitar Song" by/performed by Danny Saber; "Squib Cakes" by Chester Thompson, performed by Tower of Power; "Smokin'" by Tom Scholz, Bradley Delp, performed by Boston; "Magic Carpet Ride" by John Kay, Rushton Moreve, performed by Steppenwolf; "Flosso Bosso" by/performed by Harry Garfield; "It Happens Each Day" by David Crosby, performed by The Byrds; "China Grove" by Tom Johnston, performed by The Doobie Brothers; "Colours" by Donovan Leitch, performed by Terence Stamp
Production Sound Mixer
Jim Webb
Re-recording Mixers
Larry Blake
Melissa S. Hoffman
Vine Street Recordist
Eric Flickinger
Supervising Sound Editor
Larry Blake
All-purpose Sound Editor
Aaron Glascock
Sound Editors
Marvin Walowitz
Michael Chock
Ezra Dweck
John P.
Newell Alexander
Elisa Gabrielli
Mitch Carter
Luisa Leschin
David Cowgill
Edie Mirman
Jake Eissinmann
Claudette Wells
Alicia Stevenson
Dawn Fintor
Carrie Cashman
David Betancourt
Stunt Co-ordinator
John Robotham
Film Extract
Poor Cow (1967)
Terence Stamp
Lesley Ann Warren
Luis Guzmán
Barry Newman
Jim Avery
Joe Dallesandro
Uncle John
Nicky Katt
Peter Fonda
Terry Valentine
Melissa George
Jennifer 'Jenny' Wilson
Amelia Heinle
William Lucking
warehouse foreman
Matthew Kimbrough
John Robotham
Steve Heinze
Nancy Lenehan
lady on plane
Wayne Péré
pool hall creep
John Cothran Jr
Ousaun Elam
Dwayne McGee
Brian Bennett
DEA guys
Allan Graf
Carl Ciarfalio
George Ruge
Lincoln Simonds
warehouse thugs
Rainbow Borden
warehouse sweeper
Michaela Gallo
young jennifer
José Perez
Alex Perez
teen gun dealers
Brandon Keener
excited guy
Jim Jenkins
Mark Gerschwin
party guys
Johnny Sanchez
Brooke Marie Bridges
child actress
Randy Lowell
Eva Rodriguez
Ed's sister
James Earl Olmedo
Ed's nephew
Jamie Lin Olmedo
Ed's niece
Clement E. Blake
pool hall bartender
Tom Pardoe
party bartender
George Clooney
himself, on 'Access Hollywood'
Film Four Distributors
7,996 feet
88 minutes 51 seconds
Digital DTS sounds/SDDS/Dolby digital
Colour by
CFI Colour
Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011