BOUND 4K Review: "Criterion Closet Picks" Just Got a Whole Lot Less Closeted

The Wachowskis finally take their place in The Criterion Collection with this week’s release of their debut feature in a gleaming new transfer.

Contributor; Toronto, Canada
BOUND 4K Review: "Criterion Closet Picks" Just Got a Whole Lot Less Closeted

Sometimes I like to remind folks that before The Matrix was released in the spring of 1999, the bets were against it.

Keanu Reeves had done five years of post-Speed action clunkers (and genuinely confusing dramatic turns); Johnny Mnemonic -- whose cyberpunk sheen seemed to be The Matrix's closest antecedent -- had been a notorious misfire; and all eyes were on Episode I: The Phantom Menace for science fiction spectacle that year anyway.

My friends and I, on the other hand, played The Matrix trailer on a loop in one of the screening rooms at film school, and were waiting for the sophomore feature from the directors of Bound like a kind of second coming... because Bound was awesome.

Bound was awesome in a particularly '90s way. Reservoir Dogs and the American indie boom had kicked open a broad swath of competing, low(ish)-rent crime pictures; you could go to the multiplex every couple of months and see someone's post-modern, post-Pulp Fiction take on the genre with reliable regularity.

A lot of them were crap. (Does anyone remember Things To Do In Denver When You're Dead?) Some of them, though, punched their way through the sameyness and signalled directors who weren't just playing a popular game, but making the game their own.

Bound was one such, from neophyte filmmakers (the sisters had written comic books and the original screenplay for Richard Donner's Assassins, which was then heavily rewritten without their involvement) breaking into directing by riding that popular wave. Bound leaned into queerness, though, with lesbian lovers Corky and Violet (Gina Gershon and Jennifer Tilly) working to scam Violet's mobster boyfriend Caesar (Joe Pantoliano) out of a couple million bucks without the mob coming down on them for the crime.

At the time, a crime thriller with lesbian leads directed by people who were then presenting as cis simply seemed, at best, novel. With the benefit of their careers behind us, of course, Bound has become more and more deeply legible as a multifaceted queer text, interested in more than just upending genre tropes for gay characters.

Bound, given its time and place in the Wachowskis' careers, is deeply concerned with the closet. It opens in one, literally, and frames most of the story as a flashback playing in the mind of the (also literally) bound Corky on the floor of that closet.

But in the tension of Violet and Corky's budding love affair, Bound also seems to use its characters to place the audience within the very sensation of coming out: what one trusts and who one trusts, when one senses that there is greater freedom on the other side of that closet door. Corky, an out lesbian who has just finished doing five years' hard time for robbery, is drawn to Violet (the early sequence of Corky unscrewing Violet's sink drain, releasing a gushing torrent, remains scream-worthy) but has to weigh whether Violet -- who is Caesar's moll and a sex worker, and uses heterosexual femininity to navigate and survive her relationships with men -- is who she claims to be when the couple is alone together, where she is the femme dyke to Corky's butch. Is Violet femme, or a femme fatale? Is she genuine in her admissions to Corky, or is it a secondary level of purposeful artifice to secure her survival?

These scenes capture the shakiness of the feeling of coming out, even though (within the text) Corky is absolutely at ease with her sexual identity. As with The Matrix, the Wachowskis are creating an analogy with which to examine real-world anxieties about transition. "You can believe what you feel," Violet assures Corky, as she seduces her.

Once the women have come together -- and the Criterion disc uses the Unrated Cut, more explicit than the one that was released in North American theatres in 1996, gleefully presaging the sisters' maximalist stagings of sex in The Matrix Reloaded and Sense8 -- the majority of the rest of the movie is turned over to watching what happens after they have toppled the first domino. This is where Pantoliano earns his place in the pantheon of Wachowski star players, as Caesar goes more and more insane trying to work out what's happened to the suitcase full of money he was supposed to be safeguarding, as various mob whackos (including a hysterical Christopher Meloni) rotate through the apartment, sniffing around for a mounting number of clues.

Photographed on 35mm by Bill Pope and restored under the supervision of the cinematographer and the directors, Bound's overlapping liquid image systems (water! paint! blood!) exude wetness in the new transfer. The starkness of the Wachowskis' production value -- the overwhelming majority of the film takes place in two adjacent apartments -- nonetheless feels rich and full in this presentation, contrasting the gloomy black and white of Violet and Caesar's unit with the unfinished construction (!) of the room next door, where Corky is doing her handiwork. The camera sometimes drifts between the two, or overhead in key rooms, accentuating the sense that the entire apartment complex is a series of interlocking boxes or closets, from which Corky and Violet must break free.

Supplements on the Criterion release are almost entirely archival, with the exception of a new video essay by Christina Newland. The only commentary the Wachowskis ever recorded is here, and includes "technical consultant" Susie Bright, who served as a kind of proto-intimacy coordinator on the project and appears briefly as a potential one-night fling for Corky.

The disc also includes a bevvy of interviews with the principal cast members that were conducted in the 2010s for prior Blu-ray releases, all of which are fresh enough to hold up. Further video supplements from previous releases address the photography, music, title design, and the film's presentation of gender and sexuality.

Bound is an essential Criterion release. Now let's get Speed Racer, Cloud Atlas, and both seasons of Sense8 on the label, pronto! Heck, throw in Jupiter Ascending, I won't mind.

The film is available for purchase from the official Criteiron site.


  • Lana Wachowski
  • Lilly Wachowski
  • Lilly Wachowski
  • Lana Wachowski
  • Jennifer Tilly
  • Gina Gershon
  • Joe Pantoliano
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Criterion CollectionLana WachowskiLilly WachowskiThe WachowskisJennifer TillyGina GershonJoe PantolianoCrimeThriller

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