Steven Soderbergh's chic, tantalising revenge thriller is ample evidence of his adventurous and stylish instincts. The Limey is a conventional, noirish revenge story. But Soderbergh has shaped what might have been standard genre fare into an elliptical quasi-dreamscape, peopled with almost cipher characters and told via an arse-about-face structure reminiscent of New Wave auteurs like Bresson and Resnais. It's pleasingly at odds with the efficient but sometimes predictable Hollywood three-act model.
David Wilson (Stamp) is an ageing Cockney ex-con, a fish out of water in LA. He's here on the trail of an ageing smoothie record producer, Valentine (Fonda), who he believes has killed his daughter, Jenny, in a drug-deal cover-up. Once Valentine realises he's a target, he hires hit men to take out Wilson. What follows is a chaotic progress through the tripped-out LA streets, and then onto the post-hippy, moneyed paradise of Big Sur, with Wilson increasingly bent on implacable, murderous revenge.
After the crowd-pleasing success of Out Of Sight Soderbergh evidently felt he had earned the right to make a more stylistically adventurous film. The pleasure to had is not so much from the story as the way it is told, which is exemplified in the casting: Fonda and Stamp, of course, are both 1960s icons and their real lives inform the film's back story.
There is a simple, ingenious device of seeing Stamp in his earlier days, with inserted footage of him in Ken Loach's 1960s film, Poor Cow, where he also played a criminal called Dave. Fans of traditional storytelling virtues, like characters with depth, may object to some of The Limey's style-over-content conceits (the writer, Dobbs, certainly complained when he saw what Soderbergh had done to his story). But the film's lucid intelligence and compelling qualities put it up with Soderbergh's other successes, and confirm him as Hollywood's most versatile talent.