BR: Romeo is Bleeding (1993)

July 25, 2016 | By

RomeoIsBleeding1993_BRFilm: Very Good

Transfer:  Excellent

Extras: Good

Label:  Twilight Time

Region: All

Released: June 14, 2016

Genre:  Neo-Nor / Suspense

Synopsis: A crooked cop’s sweet and very profitable association with a mob boss is shattered when he meets his match in the form of a relentless, ultra-sexy Russian hitwoman.

Special Features: Isolated Stereo Music Track (with some Sound Effects) / Theatrical Trailer / 8-page colour booklet with liner notes by film historian Julie Kirgo / Limited to 3000 copies / Available exclusively from Screen Archives Entertainment and




When Premiere magazine was in its finest form, printing a balance of ephemera, history, current interviews, portraits, and exposes, they also did an occasional tally of the ’10 best unproduced screenplays in Hollywood,’ updating the status of each as to whether a work had just been greenlit, went into turnaround, or bounced again to another studio / producer / director / egotistical star, and I remember Hilary Henkin’s Romeo is Bleeding being part of a round-up.

Henkin’s script was likely hard to peg and pitch, being a neo-noir, black comedy, and absurdist thriller, and however Peter Medak came to be attached as director, he was perhaps among a few filmmakers skilled in finding that weird balance among a dark script’s elements, much in the way Martin Scorsese made After Hours (1985) a perfect cult film, with its hero trapped in a prolonged series of misadventures during what seemed like the longest night of his life.

Medak’s career really took a leap when he directed the stark black comedy The Ruling Class (1972) in which jealous family members attempt to gain control of an estate when its sole beneficiary things he is literally Jesus Christ; and he proved a special adeptness with horror when he directed the CanCon ghost story classique The Changeling (1980).

He bounced back & forth between episodic TV and the odd feature film, and if the aforementioned films were any indication, Medak’s career peaks tended to occur every ten years, hence the double-hitter of what may be two of the finest British crime films of the 1990s: the vicious true crime drama The Krays (1990) with its bursts of shocking sadism, and the powerful anti-capital punishment true crime bio-drama Let Him Have It (1991).

Medak accepted an episode of HBO’s Tales from the Crypt (“Hollywood Nightmare) before Romeo, after which came episodes of Kindred: The Embraced (1996) and Homicide: Life on the Streets (1994-1998), collectively forming the best of his 1990s work before the debacle of Species II (1998) and a peppering of TV work. Medak’s skill lay in realizing the unfilmable, the narratively challenging, the pitch black comedy, and for fans it was disappointing to see him become a kind of journeyman hired gun on shows like 7th Heaven (2004), South Beach (2006), and maybe even Breaking Bad (2009); it also didn’t help that his episode “The Washingtonians” was among the worst in the largely unsatisfying Masters of Horror series.

Film is where Medak had the freedom to bend genres and play with time and structure lay, and Romeo represents his last great work, and a small gem that failed to impress critics and draw much of a box office draw like other neo-noirs of the era, including Black Widow (1987), After Dark My Sweet (1990), The Hot Spot (1990), The Underneath (1995), and 2 Days in the Valley (1996).

It’s not a perfect film, but it’s pedigree was premium, and everyone managed to add just the right shade of light and shadow in this mordant tale of a cop on the take who accepts one dangerous job too many, and loses everything.

Henkin’s script is bookended by disgraced cop Jack Grimaldi (Gary Oldman), opening up in a dusty, desert bar for business, and as he peels through a photo album, his self-effacing inner voice narrates the events that drove him to an armpit in the desert where he’s tormented by memories.

For its first third if not first half, Romeo is a perfect black comedy: Grimaldi takes envelopes of cash from Sal (Michael Wincott) so mob boss Don Falcone (Roy Scheider) can send ruthless Russian assassin Mona Demarkov (Lena Olin, still hot from The Unbearable Lightness of Being) to wipe out government witnesses or whomever could threaten his crime empire. When Mona kills a mass of cops in addition to protected witness Nick Gazzara (uncredited Dennis Farina) and is caught by the police, Falcone expects Grimaldi to set up Mona’s demise… except she escapes… and threatens to expose crooked cops, mob enforcers and bigwigs, and the inept cop who let her go the first time, Martie (Will Patton).

Grimaldi’s given one chance to kill Mona, and her second escape ranks as one of the  film’s most eccentric and erotic moments as the handcuffed killer uses legs, heels, thighs, and incredible agility to strangle her driver, crash the car, and escape with both the money promised to Grimaldi and the fake coroner’s report for her staged death.

Larded between these antics is Grimaldi cheating on long-suffering wife Natalie (Annabella Sciorra), his affair with not-so-bright but earnest waitress Sheri (Juliette Lewis), and something Grimaldi calls ‘the hole’: a physical trap door hiding spot in his backyard where he packs in envelope after envelope of cash, and a metaphor for his insatiable greed for money. Cash is what ultimately destroys his life, and the portent of his doom lies within view of his backyard – a massive, sprawling cemetery below.

Although shot in NYC, Medak initially avoids direct references until the finale, perhaps to contextualize Grimaldi’s status in being a fringe detective rather than a man of genuine stature and importance outside of his precinct. Oldman is the anchor that keeps the film from tipping into full lunacy by playing Grimaldi straight: he’s a sex addict, a money addict, an addict of dancing around danger, an overconfident fool drunk on a sense of invincibility from years of fat cash payments, a serial womanizer who believes gold trinkets like a charm bracelet will keep the wife happy and dumb, and a peeping tom who’s as crude as his team of subordinates.

When Grimaldi falls, it’s his own damn fault for wanting to feed that hiding hole in the backyard and the whims of his prick, but Oldman makes sure the emotional trauma is real, which isn’t easy when ‘the bleeding’ begins and he’s tossed into increasingly weird situations. Mona is like Michael Myers, a master manipulator who plays Grimaldi gor a fool like former boss Falcone, and it’s that back-and-forth interplay between Mona and Grimaldi that runs a few rounds too many, convoluting the story, prolonging its resolution, and leading to an escape for Grimaldi that doesn’t quite gel, given he should’ve been roasted in court and thrown into jail.



Nevertheless, as the implausibilities and sudden encounters echo the emotional shocks of After Hours, Oldman keeps us watching, and Medak balances absurdity with tragedy, neatly leading to the bookend finale that offers an obvious cheat before reality closes the film (as it should).

As the end credits roll, Grimaldi’s fate may be staid and safe, but emotionally he’s as tormented as a classic noir anti-hero, except in Henkin’s script he doesn’t die, get shot by the dame, go to jail, or get executed: he just lives with the guilt and rots in the dry desert. For all intents and purposes, he’s been dropped onto an island with enough food and water and shelter until he cracks, checks out voluntarily, or fate gives him a break.



For present day film fans, the cast is loaded with a crazy array of character actors, and part of the small parts may stem from casting director Bonnie Timmermann, with whom Medak worked on a 1986 episode of Crime Story called “Ground Zero.” (That surreal, darkly funny episode ranks as one of the best season finales in TV.)

Timmermann’s influential casting choices drew from Crime Story (Farina, Paul Butler) and Miami Vice actors (Farina again, Larry Joshua), and other small credited & uncredited roles went to James Cromwell, Ron Perlman, and Stephen Tobolwsky). Also in the cast in jazz crooner Julia Migenes as barmaid Lorraine, who also had an unbilled part in Medak’s The Krays.

Walter Murch  edited the film and crafted the absolutely superb sound design for what’s really a straight stereo mix. Mark Isham’s score is one of his best: it’s a perfect blend of jazz combo with electronics, with Isham performing the muted trumpet solos that give the film its slick, neo-noir veneer. Dariusz Wolski’s cinematography is gorgeous, milking deep earthy colours from the sets and décor that evoke a 40s noir thriller (especially the hotel room where Mona and Grimaldi have their tussles).

Oldman would glide straight into two of his best roles of the early 1990s – Drexl in True Romance (1993) and the pill-popping, neck-cracking crooked cop in Luc Besson’s Leon: The Professional (1994) – whereas Juliette Lewis would further her brand of a southern-twanged eccentric in Natural Born Killers (1994).

Screenwriter Henkin’s best known work includes the ill-fated Fatal Beauty (1987), the goofball cult hit Road House (1989), and the dryly satirical Wag the Dog (1997). Henkin also scripted Prisoners (1981), the still- unreleased Tatum O’Neal drama directed by Peter Werner (No Man’s Land).



© 2016 Mark R. Hasan



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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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