1 March 2009 | CountZero313
sometimes, she stays a little longer
Revisiting Romeo is Bleeding after a number of years, I was struck by what still works, what doesn't, and how wonderful endings allow us to overlook any number of faults that lead up to them.
Gary Oldman is Jack, a corrupt DS well-loved by his men looking to build an ill-gotten nest egg towards early retirement. And on one level it is all going so well, except enough is never enough, and he just can't leave the ladies alone.
Enter Mona (Lena Olin), a femme fatale who manages to inhabit both the femme and the fatale completely. The cop in Jack knows to cuff her, lock her up, and throw away the key, but the Jack in Jack has another agenda.
Romeo is Bleeding is every frame a modern noir thriller, made great by Hilary Henkin's script exhibiting detailed reverence for the genre, and some unparalleled performances by the actors. Oldman is breath-taking, cynical and world-weary delivering his Marlowe-style quips, raw and vulnerable reaching crescendo when he puts a gun barrel in his mouth. It would be too much to ask his co-stars to outshine him, but they certainly keep up. Olin produces a nightmarish laugh at the most inappropriate times, and Juliette Lewis's cocktail waitress (what else?) Sheri's innocence is perfectly ignorant, far too ignorant to survive in this brutal arena. Annabella Sciorra as Natalie completes the trio of Jack's women, his not-so-unaware wife. She is not as cold-hearted towards Jack as Mona, not as infatuated as Sheri, but her flawed love contains a bit of both. She points a gun at him, and we know she knows. Sitting on the porch they have one of those oblique conversations only old married couples know, where every utterance is sub-text, and restraint and feigned ignorance are the name of the game. Jack never quite gets to grips with her, and that is to be his ultimate tragedy.
There are hints of Chandler here (the letter to Jack from The Boys), and Chinatown, too, most noticeably in the bloodied, deformed demeanor of the protagonist in the final third, but Romeo is Bleeding is a stylish noir piece that acknowledges its antecedents without racking up debts.
And then there is the ending, of such heartbreaking, poignant beauty, Oldman and Sciorra pitch-perfect, deftly shot and edited, a wave you ride and crash on shore with. Startling, stunning, and yet how could this tale have ended otherwise? "Sometimes, she stays a little longer. And then she's gone." Not a perfect film, but a perfect ending, and I'll take that every time.