The Wachowskis' seminal entry into neo-noir filmmaking Bound is not only one of the best thrillers to come out of the 90s but proved to be an indicative representation of the filmmaking siblings - in more ways than one. 22 years later the film remains a tight and tense rollercoaster thriller about two women and their scheme to rip off a mobster of two million dollars in cold hard cash. Olive Films adds Bound to their illustrious Signature Collection including both the R-Rated and 14-second longer Unrated cuts of the film, a new but still limited video transfer, a terrific audio mix, and plenty of great bonus features. Bound is an easy one to call Highly Recommended.
"You know what the difference is between you and me, Violet?"
22 years is a long time for a film. As Hollywood cranks out hundreds of new films every year, the fact that a small low-budget indie film like Bound has managed to hold on as a tightly executed thriller while also maintaining a sense of cultural relevancy is damned impressive. As the Wachowskis first film, it's a showcase of their inventive stylings and capabilities to craft well-drawn intricate characters while giving their actors Jennifer Tilly, Gina Gershon, and Joe Pantoliano the range to make these characters distinct individuals. As you'll see when you watch the film, Bound isn't just a footnote in their fame with The Matrix.
After five years inside, Corky (Gina Gershon) is out. She's taken a job fixing up an apartment in an upscale building and all she wants to do is avoid trouble. But she finds trouble on the first day of the job when she meets Violet (Jennifer Tilly) and her mobster boyfriend Caesar (Joe Pantoliano) in the elevator. The connection between Corky and Violet is immediate. When they start an affair together, Corky and Violet are in a precarious place of angering the mob and being torn apart by Caesar. When the chance to relieve Caesar of a two million dollar cash payment comes up, Corky and Violet concoct a scheme that will test their commitment to each other.
Bound is just damn good filmmaking. Period. Taking elements of a classic Film Noir thriller, the Wachowskis smartly give their story a unique spin that gives it a notable sense of urgency. The film takes the classic everyman who falls for the wrong woman and into a life of crime an interesting twist by bending the gender of the main character. Corky could easily have been a man, but making her a woman adds just one extra layer of intrigue to her life as well as Violet's. Violet isn't just some bimbo ready to jump to the next person who pays enough attention, she's hiding her true self out of necessity. She has to survive somehow. Both women are tired of merely surviving and ready to live and two million dollars offers the chance for a whole lot of living.
Watching Bound again after so many years, it's impressive to see where the Wachowskis got their start. From their visual styling to their brand of action editing to their characters, it's pretty easy to chart a course from this film to everything else they've done since. Coupled with the impressive turns from Gershon and Tilly, the film quickly finds its emotional core. The two leading ladies play their parts full out holding nothing back. You feel for one just as much as the other. When the plan starts to go south you can feel each character's fear about the other's commitment to the plan as well as the life they hope to live. Then you have Joe Pantoliano as Caesar. Pantoliano's Caesar is smart but also dim enough that he can't see the obvious right in front of his face making him comical. But when he's wise to the plan he becomes fearsome and lethal and a genuine threat right to the bitter end.
Leaving nothing short of itself, Bound is also a bit of a watershed moment for LGBTQ filmmaking. Setting aside the fact that in the 22 years since this film's release the sibling filmmakers have fully transitioned, the film also stands as one of the very few films where a lesbian or gay relationship doesn't ultimately end up depicted as a tragedy. I dislike giving away any kind of spoilers but I feel it's an important aspect to keep in mind when you see this film. Think about the numerous prestige Oscar-bait dramas that have been released over the years that fall for that trope where the love inevitably ends in tragedy. If one of the two isn't flat out murdered, suicide, or drive over a cliff, they end up in loveless sham "straight" marriages cursed to remembering that one summer long ago when they knew genuine love. Thankfully that doesn't happen here. You get a feeling that Corky and Violet get to move forward with their lives together. How that relationship turns out is entirely up to them.
I hadn't seen Bound all the way through in a number of years. I'd forgotten just how tightly knit the film was and how well scripted and paced each scene was. There is a constant sense of escalation that makes it a true rollercoaster thriller. Given recent output, I do wish the Wachowskis would turn back to making this sort of low budget hyper-creative genre-bending picture again. They're both originative and stylish filmmakers, I'd like to see what they could do with something on a smaller local scale rather than trying to blow minds with big expensive visual effects. Bound is such a great indicator of what the pair can do without a massive budget, and just with a smart script, a good cast, and a whole lot of creativity.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Bound arrives on Blu-ray for a second time courtesy of Olive Films, this time as part of their Signature Collection. Pressed on a Region A BD-50 disc, The disc is housed in a stylish clear plastic case with identical slipcover artwork and is limited to a run of 3500 copies. The disc loads to menu option allowing you to choose which cut of the film you want to look at before arriving at a static image main menu with traditional navigation options. Also included is a booklet featuring a terrific essay by Guinevere Turner.
Bound unfortunately has had a rather mediocre life on home video. Previously released in 2012 from Olive, that release had all the hallmarks of an HD release culled from an older scan. The artwork for this release indicates a "New HD digital restoration" and while that may be true, once again it does appear that this transfer was sourced from the same dated scan for this 1080p 1.85:1 Transfer. I only briefly looked at the 2012 release from Olive when I checked it out from the local library and I wouldn't call it too impressive. It looked soft, with rough black levels, but did offer an appreciable sense of detail and decent colors. Based on that memory, this new restoration enjoys a slight uptick in each of those departments.
Details in clothing, facial features, the apartment Corky is fixing up - all enjoy some slight improvements. Some softness remains and the image still doesn't quite pop to life as one might expect from a more recent 4K scan. Colors are decent, flesh tones are on point and primaries do get some moments to shine. Black levels leave a bit to be desired as they never quite reach true black and remain a bit hazy or can even outright crush in several scenes. As a result image depth can fluctuate. Film grain is apparent but not very well defined. Overall this transfer is decent enough, but the film itself is in need of a fresh from the ground up new scan if it's really going to shine on Blu-ray - or any format for that matter.
Bound really comes to life with this excellent DTS-HD MA 2.0 audio mix. With clean crisp dialogue, terrific scoring, and fantastic smart use of sound effects, this audio mix really captures the claustrophobia of the film. While a full lossless 5.1 mix might be interesting, I'd say it wouldn't necessarily benefit from it. The film plays things so close and tight keeping action localized to what is directly in front of you that you don't need that much more spacial awareness in the mix. There's still plenty of imaging and atmosphere on display. One of the best sequences is when Corky is trying to follow what is happening in the other apartment through the thin walls. It's a smart and restrained use of sound effects and just adds another thick layer of tension to the moment. All around this is a great mix free of any artifacts or age-related issues of any kind.
In addition to some great new bonus features, it's nice to see that Olive dipped back into the well to secure the audio commentary. It's a great listen. There is a lot of great stuff to pick through and all of it worth your time. I would have loved to see some new interviews with the Wachowskis, but the commentary will have to do.
Bound is an impressive piece of early filmmaking for the Wachowski siblings. Everything from their script to directing and editing was pitch perfect as they took a classic noir-style thriller and updated it for contemporary times. And in the 22 years since the film's release, it has remained culturally relevant and still packs an entertaining punch. Olive Films offers Bound a significant upgrade by adding it to their Signature Collection. Both cuts of the film are presented here with a slightly improved video transfer that could still use a little more TLC but is pretty decent, a great audio mix, and hours worth of informative bonus features. If you've yet to pick up Bound on Blu-ray - consider this release Highly Recommended.