A self-conscious modern-day film noir, ROMEO IS BLEEDING is breathtakingly vicious and features Lena Olin as a perversely winning and remarkably grotesque femme fatale. Although it eventually gets lost in its updated whirlpool of guilt, ROMEO delivers some memorable moments.
New York cop Jack Grimaldi (Gary Oldman) has a nice little house in Queens, a stunning wife named Natalie (Annabella Sciorra), a sweetly stupid mistress named Sheri (Juliette Lewis), and a lucrative sideline in betraying mob witnesses to local Mafia bigwig Don Falcone (Roy Scheider). But there's
a void in his life--literalized as a hole in his back yard, into which he shovels fistfuls of dirty money without ever seeming to fill it up--that's waiting to be plugged by something nasty. Enter Russian-born hitwoman Mona Demarkov (Lena Olin), the "Queen of the Queens Rackets."
Assigned to guard the viciously sexy Mona, who's been captured by the feds, Jack is almost instantly seduced, and the next shift arrives to find them in flagrante. Their unconsummated encounter leaves Jack gasping like a fish on a hook, and Mona's bloody escape guarantees that he'll be seeing
her again. Falcone orders Jack to find and kill Mona, and threatens to murder him if he fails. Planning his escape from a situation that is spinning out of control, Jack confesses his misdeeds to Natalie and asks her to disappear, arranging to meet with her in a few weeks at a diner in Arizona.
Mona offers to pay Jack to help her eliminate Falcone and fake her own death. Although he obtains phony papers for her, she refuses to pay and attempts to strangle him; he shoots and seriously wounds her, but she escapes. Mona lures Jack to an abandoned warehouse, where he attempts to kill her
but manages to shoot Sheri instead. Mona fixes the corpse so as to suggest that it was she, and not Sheri, who died (her scheme involves severing her own arm and substituting it for Sheri's).
Later, Mona uses Jack to get to Don Falcone, whom she tortures before forcing Jack to bury him alive (she offers Jack the option of digging one grave or two). Jack is way out of his league, and to underscore the film's inevitable equation of sex and violence, screenwriter Hilary Henkin and
director Peter Medak stage a scene in which Mona handcuffs Jack to the bed and has her way with him in menacing S&M gear--but only after unbuckling her new prosthetic arm, her last concession to conventional appearances. The film ends with Jack waiting behind the bar of a desolate desert diner,
dreaming of Natalie walking through the door and half-mad with the knowledge that if she hasn't come by now, it's because she's never coming.
ROMEO IS BLEEDING is nothing if not excessive, a tribute to the noir universe of tough guys and tougher women, a world in which love inevitably leads to sorrow and lust is synonymous with betrayal and ruin. From the tough guy voice-over narration filled with pithy bad poetry to the unregenerate
corruption of every corner of its world, the film sets out to push the conventions of noir further than they've ever been pushed. Were it a little more in tune with the most important element of the genre's best films--a real appreciation of the tragic quality of lives unraveled by personal
weakness--ROMEO IS BLEEDING could be an excoriating tour de force. But it's ultimately shallow and show-offy, filled with smirking in-jokes and self-conscious references to the overwrought world of pulp fiction.
The cast tries to make up for the script's hollowness by hurling themselves headlong into the sort of bloody, sweating, spittle-spewing performances that can sometimes turn thin material into personal triumphs, but to little avail. Oldman works the hardest and gets the least reward for his
trouble; the ending ought to make you want to cry for his lost dreams, but it's as lifeless as it is predictable. Though his is the more complex performance, it pales next to Olin's flashy turn as a high-heeled harpy. Mona Demarkov--a woman who, when she talks about her first time, means her first
murder rather than her first sexual experience--is a monster of lethal lubricity. Handcuffed in the back seat of Jack's car, Mona escapes by hooking her legs around his neck, causing him to crash the car, and then slithering out over the front seat and through the shattered windshield without ever
freeing her hands; the effect is simply terrifying. Mona Demarkov may not be a convincing woman, but she's an awe-inspiring embodiment of the female principle at its most devouring, Medusa, Kali, and praying mantis all rolled into one frilly, garter-wrapped package. (Nudity, sexual situations,violence, profanity.)
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- Released: 1994
- Rating: R
- Review: A self-conscious modern-day film noir, ROMEO IS BLEEDING is breathtakingly vicious and features Lena Olin as a perversely winning and remarkably grotesque femme fatale. Although it eventually gets lost in its updated whirlpool of guilt, ROMEO delivers some… (more)