Jenny’s dead – looks like a fiery car crash. Wilson (Terence Stamp), her dad, is a cool-eyed hooligan, an ex-con who makes cockney dialect ring like alien jazz. Valentine (Peter Fonda), her lover, is either an old, rich hippie or an oily classic-rock promoter, depending on how the California light hits his wide smile. Wilson wants Valentine to tell him about Jenny.
In The Limey, his eighth feature, director Steven Soderbergh seizes this simplest of noir story lines and deliciously rearranges the basic elements of movie form. It’s a kick the way he scatters conversations across time and space, stretches the two-dimensional nature of genre-film characters, and scrambles reality with memory and fantasy. What’s more, he snips in clips of a three-decades-younger Stamp from Ken Loach’s ”Poor Cow” and dares to be unassuming in action scenes. The director’s not just tweaking conventions; he’s adroitly teasing conventionality.
In a season when critics, cineasts, and Joe Moviegoer alike complain about the trend toward numbingly long films, and the Oscar Best Picture nominees run on for an average of 139 minutes, Soderbergh gives us ”The Limey” in just under an hour and a half, leaving plenty of time to rewind, re-watch, and re-admire the same jewel gleaming on different facets.