Romeo is Bleeding
1994 Directed by Peter Medak. Starring Gary Oldman, Lena Olin, Annabella Sciorra, Juliette Lewis, Roy Scheider, Michael Wincott.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Feb. 25, 1994
Romeo is bleeding and we just don't care. Long ago in this movie, we stopped caring about characters and logic and rational boundaries. The piece is some kind of cartoon of a crime story, a Forties noir pickled for decades in its own rancid juices and uncapped for a new age audience who may never have learned hard-boiled factoids like “deadly is the female.” With his last two films, Let Him Have It and The Krays, director Peter Medak has staked out the crime terrain and made that turf his own. Both these previous films are based on historical characters and incidents, thus that may contribute to their relatively realistic deportment. Both projects are visually stylish and morally open-ended and develop their characters into complex and believable human beings. But in Romeo is Bleeding, Medak resorts instead to the style of an earlier film in his career, The Ruling Class. That cultish satire outrageously skewered its characters and Romeo is Bleeding most resembles that manic approach. Medak's new movie is over-the-top, though quite self-consciously so. You have rarely met people this vile and this venomous in the movies and they all seem swollen to larger proportions than they would ever seem in real life. Thus, a dirty cop becomes addicted to breaking the law and a criminal female mastermind becomes a castrating bitch. Every character in Romeo is Bleeding is a garish archetype in extremis. This has the effect of making all the action, all the bloodshed, all the double crosses seem more absurd and ridiculous than astonishing and riveting. Part of the problem may be that these performers are simply too good and imbue their characters with so much color that they obscure any depth and shading. There's a certain fascination in watching this grit as it's gory in both its emotional and dramatic details. The script by Hilary Henkin was hailed by American Film magazine a couple years ago as one of the “Ten Best Unproduced Scripts in Hollywood.” Maybe it's a case of the material playing better on the written page than in life-sized performances. Henkin's vision of Mona Demarkov (Olin) as a remorseless, amoral, lethal, and sexually devastating (you should see what she can do with a prosthetic limb) arch-criminal is a nightmare come to life. But perhaps like dreams, the story works best when played out in the furtive dark spaces of the mind's eye.