Released in the highly-competitive 1999 fall movie season against dozens of good-to-great films from other major artists, Steven Soderbergh’s modest crime thriller The Limey slipped through the cracks and drew little attention. Although kindly received by critics, it made no money and, even a couple decades later, remains one of the director’s least-seen works. Yet among fans, The Limey has garnered a reputation as an unjustly forgotten gem, if not one of Soderbergh’s best films. While I’m not sure I’d go that far, the movie holds up pretty well and deserved better than its fall into obscurity.
Following three back-to-back commercial failures between 1991 to 1995, Soderbergh famously became disenchanted with filmmaking and almost threw in the towel on his career. When asked, the man will claim that the weird 1996 cult oddity Schizopolis helped him get his mojo back, but for most people, 1998’s Out of Sight was the real turning point that put him back on the cinematic map. Despite being his very next film after that, The Limey unfortunately failed to capitalize on the director’s momentum, which wouldn’t really hit its stride until five months later with the release of Erin Brockovich, his first box office blockbuster.
|Year of Release:||1999|
|Watched On:||4K Ultra HD Blu-ray|
|Also Available On:||Blu-ray|
Various VOD rental and purchase platforms
Soderbergh’s riff on British gangster films of the 1960s, The Limey stars Terence Stamp as Wilson, an ex-con fresh out of a long stint in prison. Having received word that his daughter, Jenny (Melissa George, seen only in photos and flashbacks), died in a car accident, he doesn’t believe that story for a second and wastes little time traveling halfway across the world to Los Angeles to find the man he holds responsible. Jenny had been dating a shady music producer named Valentine (Peter Fonda), and Wilson is convinced – based solely on instinct, with no actual evidence in hand – that the boyfriend bumped her off for seeing something she shouldn’t have. That’s the nature of his line of business, and likely how he would have handled the same situation in Valentine’s shoes, but acknowledging that does nothing to sate Wilson’s need for vengeance. Something precious was taken from him, and now he’s obligated to mete out punishment.
Landing in unfamiliar territory, Wilson recruits a local small-time criminal (Luis Guzmán) to help him track down Valentine. The closer he gets, the more resistance he faces from Valentine’s “security consultant” named Avery (Barry Newman, star of the 1971 car chase classic Vanishing Point). Also making notable appearances in the film are Lesley Ann Warren as a friend of the daughter, Nicky Katt as an ineffectual hitman, and Bill Duke as a DEA agent who already has eyes on Valentine and doesn’t appreciate Wilson getting in the way of his investigation.
At just 89 minutes long (barely 85 before the end credits come up), The Limey is a very short and surprisingly slight movie. Considering the esteem it’s held in by some fans, I think I expected more out of it. The story doesn’t amount to much, frankly. The plotting is simple and straightforward, with no real surprises. This isn’t the type of thriller that relies on plot twists to keep viewers guessing. From the beginning, there’s never any question that Valentine is indeed a scummy dude, or that Wilson will eventually get to him.
The film also has little interest in pretending to be an action movie. A few brief fight scenes and suspense sequences notwithstanding, The Limey is mostly a very low-key character piece in which a couple of icons from the 1960s (Stamp and Fonda) reflect on their own screen images as older, wearier, and more corrupt versions of characters they might have played thirty years earlier. To that end, Soderbergh even incorporates clips of Stamp in Ken Loach’s 1967 Poor Cow as flashbacks. Both men are well cast and fine in their roles.
As the lead and title character, Stamp gets most of the spotlight and clearly has fun spewing a thick stream of nearly impenetrable Cockney slang as an intimidating bully. Even then, his performance is mostly dialed-down, and seems almost sedate when compared to something like Ben Kingsley’s ferocious showboating in the following year’s Sexy Beast. That’s not to say that Kingsley was better, necessarily, just that the two films take different approaches to a similar type of character.
As director, Soderbergh employs various cinematic tricks including elliptical editing, flashbacks and flashforwards, repetition, and dialogue cross-cut across scenes to make the story seem more complex than it may actually be. The Limey is a very stylized, arty movie. Some might less charitably call it “pretentious.” I can see both perspectives. I can generally fall onto Soderbergh’s wavelength, but have to admit that some of his affectations aren’t as clever as he believes they are.
Steven Soderbergh can be a bit all-over-the-map as a filmmaker. In the context of his career, The Limey falls into a middle ground, neither as populist and mainstream-appealing as his Ocean’s Eleven trilogy, Erin Brockovich, or Traffic, nor as audience-alienating as his more experimental efforts like Full Frontal or Bubble. As such, it didn’t really hit either side of his fan base. That’s not particularly fair to the film itself, which may not quite be a masterpiece but still has plenty of merit as a strong character drama.
The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
Ignored by theatrical audiences in 1999, The Limey also went little noticed on home video. For many years, fans had to settle for a DVD release from 2000 as the best version available. Eventually, a high definition master turned up on streaming (Amazon Prime Video at the time, I believe) and VOD services, followed by a 4K upgrade at the end of 2019. Still, the film had no Blu-ray release on physical media until just recently.
In October of 2022, The Limey finally appeared as a Best Buy exclusive packaged in a SteelBoook case with a partially see-through acrylic slipcover that changes the art as you add or remove it. The two-disc set includes copies of the movie on both 4K Ultra HD and standard Blu-ray. I don’t believe a standalone Blu-ray was released separately; it’s only available bundled in this SteelBook.
I haven’t seen any of the HD streaming versions and have no basis for comparison, but to my eye even the 4K edition looks like it comes from an older master. Transferred at a full-screen 16:9 aspect ratio (rather than the theatrical 1.85:1), the image is very grainy and a little washed-out with flat colors. Sharpness is acceptable, but doesn’t really approach a 4K level of detail. Some scenes exhibit signs of electronic sharpening, and the picture has no sense of HDR or Wide Color Gamut at all. It doesn’t look terrible by any means, but checking them back-to-back, about the only meaningful distinction between the 4K and regular Blu-ray discs is that the former has more prominent grain. Ironically, some viewers may prefer watching the Blu-ray, where the grain (though still present and visible) is a little less obtrusive.
The film’s sound design is surprisingly quiet and subdued for a revenge thriller. Fidelity is fine, with the Cliff Martinez score benefiting most from the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack. Surround activity rarely calls attention to itself. Gunshots are crisp but don’t have much dynamic range. Note that dialogue is intentionally obscured in some scenes. That’s an artistic choice, not a flaw in the audio track.
Supplements are identical between both the Blu-ray and 4K discs. They’re limited to an isolated score track and pair of audio commentaries ported from the old DVD. In the first, director Soderbergh and screenwriter Lem Dobbs have a very frank and sometimes even contentious discussion about how well each of them thinks the final product turned out. The second is a group track assembling comments from those two again, plus actors Terence Stamp, Peter Fonda, Lesley Ann Warren, and Barry Newman.
A few trailers and some technical notes from the DVD didn’t make the transition.
Note: All screenshots on this page were taken from the standard Blu-ray edition of the film and are used for illustration purposes only.
4 thoughts on “You Tell ‘im I’m Coming – The Limey (1999) 4K Ultra HD”
Also one of the very last (and now very expensive) LaserDiscs!
This was probably one of my earlier DVDs. I would stop at my 24 hour Walmart after my late pizza delivery shifts on early Tuesday mornings on my way home from work. The DVDs were in a glass case that I would have to sometimes ask the employee to get for me. I remember feeling like I got these movies earlier than regular vhs folk would because either the tapes weren’t available for sale, or they were at the $100 dollar mark. This era was what really kicked in my movie collecting and I always associate The Limey with that. The movie still holds up, I like the art house gangster vibe.
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I remember a reviewer at the time saying Stamp “just wasn’t that scary”. I thought he was scary as hell.
That same year Soderbergh published “Getting Away with It”, a set of interviews with Richard Lester, who comes across as a fast, decisive filmmaker with no hand-wringing in his nature at all. Soderbergh pokes fun at himself as the opposite: neurotic about everything, always indecisive and blocked in all his projects. Quite a contrast.
I remember watching this movie when it came out and thinking it was fine. The most memorable part being Fonda trying to get away from Stamp while traversing all those rocks.
I watched it a couple of weeks ago thinking an older and more informed cinematic “eye” might reveal a new appreciation for it, but…not really. It was,again, just fine.
Maybe in another 20-plus years I might see it differently, but I got to the end of this watch with the same ambivalent feeling.