This is one of those movies that you will not forget. Starting with a memorable title and continuing with a crazy story that hugely varies in quality, it’s truly a strange movie. Romeo Is Bleeding is a neo-noir dirty cop thriller with a twist. One year earlier we could revel in Harvey Keitel’s performance in Bad Lieutenant and now it was Gary Oldman’s time. After 1986 Sid and Nancy, this was that big performance that made him the star we know today. I remember first being blown-out with his role in another noir thriller Leon. Dear Lord Satan, that scene when he’s walking through the apartment ending with that shot of him taking pills in a bathroom is seared into my memory.
The first half of the movie is so good, all with first-person narration and classical themes of greed and lust. And murder and violence, let’s not forget the most important element here. It was delightfully dirty and gritty. The dialogue was simply stunning, drawing you in this world of crime where different rules apply. All this was done within the noir frame, complete with a femme fatale. And this was without any doubt the fatalest of all the femmes.
This brings us to the female side of the cast with Lena Olin leading the charge. She was a force of nature here and possibly one of the best female villains in movie history. Emasculating everyone around and using “male-reserved” actions and motivations without any regret. Her story is something that needs to be seen. Annabella Sciorra as the reasonable and faithful wife and Juliette Lewis as the simple mistress completed the trifecta of incredibly powerful performances. Of course, character development was top-notch. Here’s a taste of it as Natalie Grimaldi, wife of our Romeo Jack is schooling him on their porch:
I wish I had a million dollars. Know what I’d do if I had a million dollars? Buy myself some happiness. You don’t get it by being good. And you don’t get it by being poor, and all those people who said you don’t get it by being rich… They were lyin’. What do you think? Everything else runs out. You get tired of sex. Love doesn’t last. You got both of them, you worry about your health. If that’s okay, you get scared of dyin’.
Fuck me, what a quote! It goes to the very heart of the issue, of the lives we’re living. However, after this, Romeo Is Bleeding starts to veer off. Characters start making strange decisions and situations tend to become increasingly unrealistic, almost turning the movie into a comedy or a parody. Despite all this, I still love this movie.
Meet Jack Grimaldi, a homicide detective with an insatiable appetite for money and women. Working with the New York Police Department, he’s privy to all kinds of valuable information. Some of which he passes on to Don Falcone, a local mafia boss who pays him handsomely for these dirty deeds. Happily married, he also has a mistress, young cocktail waitress Sheri. Everything was going great until Mona Demarkov, a very dangerous woman entered his life…
As a true nineties extravaganza, the movie has decent amounts of nudity and bloody shoot-outs complete with car crashes. The thing that fascinated me about this movie are the characters. Their desires and motivations may be overblown, but they are poignantly our desires and motivations. Who wouldn’t want a million dollars? Women? Power? That feeling that you’re truly alive and that something important is happening to you? And ultimately, who wouldn’t want love? Jack never shows his motivations clearly. He doesn’t have some grand retirement or getaway plan. He seems to be caught up in the whirlwind of raw emotions. An inherently self-destructive whirlwind.
In the end, Romeo Is Bleeding is a very entertaining movie that has a lot to offer if you’re willing to scratch its surface. It has everything that a modern noir movie needs to have and more. It kind of reminded me of another strange, but much, much better noir movie Night Moves from 1975. It’s similarly odd but much better constructed. Starring Gene Hackman along with Melanie Griffith in her first major role and James Woods in one of his earliest roles, it’s a true noir gem. Enjoy.
Director: Peter Medak
Writer: Hilary Henkin
Cast: Gary Oldman, Lena Olin, Annabella Sciorra, Juliette Lewis, David Proval, Michael Wincott, Roy Scheider, Ron Perlman
Fun Facts: The film’s title is taken from a Tom Waits song. In the end credits he receives “special thanks” for its use.