Terence Stamp plays The Limey, a just-released British convict who comes to Los Angeles to investigate the death of his estranged daughter.
In The Limey, Stamp is a tough guy, but not Bob Hoskins cockney and bluster ala’ The Long Good Friday (Stamp is more intelligible). He’s icy and removed, grimly determined to get to the bottom of his daughter’s death. His search leads him to several leads, the most promising being Peter Fonda, who plays a record executive who made his bones in the 60s, and Barry Newman, Fonda’s dubious associate (Newman is a 70s American television staple as “Petrocelli” the lawyer).
Fonda’s role as an icon of the 60s is hand-in-hand with the film’s use of Stamp (another 60s icon who disappeared with the decade), and the film is an easy examination of two men lost in the 90s. Soderbergh packages a generational disconnect in a taut psychological crime thriller.
Soderbergh gives Stamp great latitude to play out the macho rage of an absent father. His anger is at the loss of his daughter, though his memories are but a few snippets and stories (he was in prison for a great period of her upbringing). Stamp embodies father as figure, and his inner demon is not so much what he lost, but what he squandered.
Where Stamp is driven, Fonda is resigned. He senses that his time is past, and his desperation is palpable. His weakness is subtle (his conversations with a lover 30 years his junior are wonderfully pained, the scripted equivalent of a middle-aged man in a Porsche, a head mottled by Rogaine, and “The Byrds” on the CD, as he waxes about his past, only to be met with “Oh, I think you’ve told me that story”).
Both Stamp and Fonda are nostalgiac for the 60s, the former because it was a time of his daughter, his marriage and his freedom, and the latter because it has burnished in his mind as a golden moment. But the love of the time has distorted both men, and they appear lost in the 90s.
Soderbergh is also much more aggressive in his use of timelines, to great effect. We are regularly shown snippets of things to come or things past, which contribute to the theme of the depiction of the two men alone an adrift.