Yes, this is Gary Oldman week for me and retro cinema, but you won't see me complaining. Usually, the chameleon Oldman morphs and slides onto the screen for one of his many diverse supporting roles. Most recently, he's taken on heroes like Sirius Black and Lt. James Gordon, but he's got a past that includes the little person Rolfe, the creepy Mason Verger, Pontius Pilate, Zorg, a Russian hijacker, and as I shared earlier this week, Ludwig van Beethoven. 1993's Romeo is Bleeding, however, marks one of the few times like Immortal Beloved where we can see him shine in the lead.
Oldman plays Jack Grimaldi, a cop who has been lured by the dark side in a noir '90s landscape. (Think Twin Peaks' timeless quality and haunting music, but set within a violent urban environment.) To supplement his low-pay job as a sergeant, Grimaldi is working for the mob -- directing them to the locations of different witnesses under protection. For his efforts, he gets thousands of dollars, which he hides in the back of his yard. But this is only the tip of Jack's moral failings. While he has a wife named Natalie (Annabella Sciorra) at home, he's also acting out fantasies with his grating girlfriend, Sheri (Juliette Lewis).
Things have been moving along smoothly for the corrupt cop, but that all changes when Russian assassin Mona Demarkov (Lena Olin) enters the picture. She's beautiful, dark, and has that amused, sinister gleam in her eye -- life is there for her amusement, and she has no fear of being ultimately caught. When Grimaldi has to bring her to a secure location, Mona seduces him in no time, and delights in the fact that his fellow officers find him in flagrante. Demarkov laughs and laughs and laughs -- as she does with almost everything. It haunts Jack, and perhaps even scares him, yet he can't resist her, and this will be his demise.
Everything begins to go wrong for the crooked cop. He can tell that his wife is suspicious of him. His mob boss Don Falcone (played by Roy Scheider) isn't happy when Grimaldi directs him to Mona's location, but she's not there. To rectify the situation, Falcone wants Jack to kill Mona, but meanwhile, she wants Jack to fake her death. Both are willing to pay, and Jack has money coming from both sides. However, he's caught in the middle between 3 dangers -- his police work, Demarkov, and Falcone. Jack splinters, and the once easy-as-breeze man who would dance in his back yard, is now a nervous, ticking mess.
This cinematic beast is a curious one. A mixture of stellar and weak aspects, the film exists in a sort of limbo. It's too good to be crap, but messes up too much to be really good. Luckily, one of it's strongest assets is the film's amazing cast, which makes this strange, violent, and bloody pill much easier to swallow. Oldman is, as always, the embodiment of his character. When he's happy, you can feel his levity, from the weight of his step to the gleam in his eye. When he cracks, you can feel the shudder of his stress and despair. However, it is Lena Olin who steals the show -- not because she out-acts Oldman, but because her character is one of the toughest, most eerie femme fatales to hit the screen. Her laughter slices while her legs prove that biceps aren't the only fleshy guns around.
Beyond the punch provided by Oldman's desperation and Olin's evilness lies a supporting cast of familiar faces, many of whom are in familiar situations. Lewis is once again playing the whining girl. Her performance is grating, but at the same time, it shows just how cocky Grimaldi is. He isn't a prisoner of his emotions, but rather an insatiable, girl-crazy man who just wants fun, women, and money. Sciorra, meanwhile, is the uneasy wife who seems, at once, both loving and accusatory towards her affable husband. Beyond Grimaldi's personal life, there's Michael Wincott once again as the creepy, yet engaging mob henchman, James Cromwell as a man of the law, and Ron Perlman in a brief cameo as Jack's lawyer.
Despite its weaknesses, Romeo is Bleeding is a film I love to watch. Oldman and Olin ensnare you in their characters, and the little bits in between are the glue that holds it all together. From Natalie's secret photo album to Jack's purgatory, there's twists and turns along the way that keep you in the world, even through Mona's laughing, bloody scenes, and Jack's mistakes. Perhaps that is the film's greatest strength. These characters aren't particularly good, but even in their mistakes, and even with their ego, they're still engaging, and they still command the screen.