Before going on to shape the landscape of cinema with sophomore feature The Matrix (1999), the Wachowski brothers, Andy and Larry (now Lana), served up this impressive subversive noir debut - an ultra stylish affair that plays out like a classic 50's thriller, but with a fun tweak in genders.
Corky (Gina Gershon) is a hardened female ex-con with a pout, tattoos and a wry smile that immediately piques the interest of the glamorous Betty Boop-looking Violet (Jennifer Tilly). While Corky is working in an adjacent apartment, the film takes on an early erotic thriller/soft porn vibe as Violet gets her round to help with the plumbing - cue close-ups of hands engaged in manual labour and flexing biceps. The two women fall into bed and into an illicit affair that sees them hatch a plan to rip off $2 million from Violet's mobster husband Caesar (Joe Pantoliano) - but, as the opening flash-forward of Corky gagged and bound on the apartment floor tells us, not everything goes to plan.
As the name suggests Bound is a tight, claustrophobic experience that is predominantly set inside the corridors and bedrooms of the apartment block. While this restraint is probably more on account of the budget, it keeps the narrative sharply focused and forces the climax into the film's woozy, intense highlight. Largely owed to a glorious script of pithy exchanges, callbacks and clichés all of its parts click seamlessly into place as the Wachowskis are able to find a thriller of violence and invention at the first time of asking.
Aside from the two strong - if stagey - lead performances, it arguably offers Pantoliano the best film role of his career. An actor who is many people's favourite screen villain as Ralph Cifaretto in The Sopranos, Bound gives him the opportunity to demolish every scene he's in with vitriol and weasly squirming. Playing a key role in the pulse-racing denouement it's the two women who take the headlines, but playing against the hateful Caesar is what gives their journey the required bite.
Stripped of much colour, nearly everything is reduced to a palette of black, white and grey - aside from the ubiquitous woman in red and other flashes of red and green that sporadically lift the frame. To compensate for the minimal use of location and colour the Wachowskis turn to cinematographer Bill Pope to spark the picture to life with a catalogue of inventive angles, camera moves and transitions. The frame is treated with such playfulness and refinement that Bound is able to assume the demeanour of a higher budget affair. Extreme shadows are cast and husky dialogue is spoken, and it is able simultaneously to pay homage to the tone of a pulpy noir, yet retain its own fresh identity. Even now, 18 years later, it still has a daring edge to it and only the suits and haircuts have aged poorly.
If you look hard enough, there's some neat foreshadowing of the brothers' future exploits (bullet time, colour palette, wallpaper) but Bound is a rollicking little debut that deserves attention in its own right. We don't get many films from them, but as last year's Cloud Atlas showed they are nothing if not wildly adventurous and unafraid of playing with genre conformity. Here's where it all began.