Bound (4K UHD Review)

  • Reviewed by: Stephen Bjork
  • Review Date: Jul 03, 2024
  • Format: 4K Ultra HD
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Bound (4K UHD Review)


The Wachowskis

Release Date(s)

1996 (June 18, 2024)


Dino De Laurentiis/Spelling Films (The Criterion Collection – Spine #1220)
  • Film/Program Grade: A-
  • Video Grade: A
  • Audio Grade: A-
  • Extras Grade: A-

Bound (4K UHD)

Buy it Here!


[Editor's Note: The majority of this review is written by Stephen Bjork with portions by Dennis Seuling.]

Submitted, for your approval, an otherwise unremarkable story with all of its familiar film noir tropes. A recently released ex-con takes a job renovating an apartment. There’s a mobster named Caesar living next door who happens to have a beautiful girlfriend named Violet, and as the femme fatale in the story, Violet first seduces the ex-con and then solicits help in stealing $2 million in mob money that Caesar is keeping in his apartment. The two lovers hatch a scheme to relieve the mob of the cash and pin the blame for it on the hapless Caesar. The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry, and step by step, the two are forced to improvise in order to avoid getting caught. Yet when they push Caesar’s back too far against the wall, he takes decisive action of his own, putting all three of their lives in jeopardy. Will any of them survive? Can the femme fatale be trusted, or is she on her own side? Therein lies the stuff of classic noir.

Yet this isn’t classic noir, because in this case, everything isn’t quite what it may seem to be on the surface—on both sides of the camera. The film is Bound, written and directed by the Wachowskis, and the ex-con in question is a woman named Corky (Gina Gershon). While the basic contours of the narrative may be straightforward noir, Bound is very much an LGBTQ+ film, with the conventional narrative serving as a vehicle for what was at that time still a relatively unconventional cinematic relationship (as least as far as mainstream filmmaking was concerned). Yet one of the interesting twists with Bound is that while one of the genders may be swapped compared to classic noir, the roles haven’t been swapped as well. Violet (Jennifer Tilly) still puts the femme in femme fatale (in more ways than one), an unapologetically self-confident woman who knows what she wants and isn’t afraid to do whatever may be necessary in order to get it. Corky, on the other hand, isn’t helpless putty in Violet’s hands; she also knows exactly what she wants, and walks into the potential trap with a confidently masculine swagger of her own. (As if it wasn’t already perfectly clear that she’s the butch of the duo, the Wachowskis include a shot of her relaxing in men’s underwear.)

The relationship between the two of them may not have followed classic noir conventions, but their roles in the story still do, and that’s one of the reasons why Bound works as well as it does. By subverting expectations in terms of gender while still fulfilling those expectations in terms of story, Bound does something that blessedly few mainstream films had done prior to that point: it normalizes an LGBTQ+ couple. Their plan to steal the money may be illicit, but Bound never treats their relationship as being an illicit one. Instead, it’s presented as being perfectly normal, open, and healthy—significantly, there isn’t a single scene where anyone else reacts negatively to it. Even when Caesar (Joe Pantoliano) finally figures out what’s going on between the two of them, the only thing that bothers him is his failure to have noticed what was happening right under his nose. He may reflexively respond with a slur or two, but his anger is still at having been betrayed, not necessarily at who was on the other side of the betrayal. He hadn’t seen Corky as a threat prior to that point, but once he learns the error of his ways, he takes her relationship with Violet seriously.

The unconventional conventionality of Bound is expressed in other ways as well. The motion picture camera is often associated with the male gaze, but that’s only because it’s generally been treated that way by filmmakers who are making films in order to appeal to male audiences. When a thriller like Basic Instinct dipped its toes into lesbian waters, it did so purely through Paul Verhoeven’s own salacious male gaze. Yet while the Wachowskis may still have publicly identified as heterosexual males back in 1996, the camerawork in Bound offers a purely female gaze instead. Violet is still presented as something of a sex object at first, but that’s because she wants to be one in order to seduce Corky. The sinuous moving camera is oriented to Corky’s lustful female gaze at Violet, but it also does the reverse by presenting Violet’s passionate view of Corky. The Wachowskis display their usual firm control of cinematic grammar in Bound, but it’s still the attraction between Corky and Violet that drives all of the visual choices that they made. Of course, there was more going on here than may have met the eye back in 1996.

The Wachowskis were already fans of author and lecturer Susie Bright, so they sent the script to her to see if she would be willing to appear in the film. She did more than that, and was ultimately credited as a technical consultant. She made sure that the lesbian bar was presented accurately, and even brought in some of her friends to serve as extras (that’s where she makes her own cameo, too). The Wachowskis also had her guide the sex scenes between Violet and Corky, and at her request, it’s all about the hands as a penetrative force. There’s no doubt that Bright was key to the authenticity in Bound, but there’s also no getting around the fact that the Wachowskis weren’t necessarily approaching the story from an unambiguously male gaze of their own. While Lana and Lily wouldn’t officially transition until 2012 and 2016, watching Bound (and The Matrix, too) through the lens of hindsight is an interesting experience. Thematically, they were exploring ideas on screen that reflected what they may have been tentatively exploring in their own lives.

Stylistically, on the other hand, Bound is pure Wachowskis, filtering everything through their own unique cinematic lens. They know their film history, so the style of Bound is a bit of a pastiche in that regard. The film opens in straightforward noir territory, but after having laid out all the pieces of the puzzle, the Wachowskis flip into Hitchcock mode instead as everything starts to fall apart. Bound turns into a black comedy at that point, with Corky’s plan spiraling out of control, Caesar’s mental state spiraling out of control along with it, and the Wachowskis presenting all of the shenanigans with Hitchcockian glee. The suspense in Bound is quite real, and the results remains in doubt until the very end. Of course, none of this would work if the Wachowskis hadn’t cast the film as well as they did. It was the beginning of their beautiful friendship with Joey Pantoliano, but Christopher Melini makes a notable early appearance as the son of the mob boss, and director Richard C. Sarafian hams it up perfectly as his father (he’s a don’s don). Yet they’re both overshadowed by the late great John P. Ryan as the mob enforcer Mickey. It’s one of the best performances of his entire career, and he’s genuinely terrifying in the role. The stakes are raised the moment that he first appears, and the tension never lets up even during the film’s coda.

Still, however good that the supporting cast may be, it’s not their film. Bound is Corky and Violet’s story, so it’s Gina Gershon and Jennifer Tilly’s film. Even the Wachowskis ultimately end up playing second fiddle to them. They’re one of the most memorable couples of any kind from any film made during that era, and like any proper screen couple, they both have their own moments of doubt. Film noir is all about trusting the wrong woman, and since this particular couple consists of two women, they both end up questioning that trust. That’s all laid out in a key moment that takes place early in the film. Violet is impressed by Corky’s plan, so she wants to know how Corky could have ended up in jail:

“If you’re this goddamned smart, how did you ever get caught?”
“I had a partner once. She fucked me.”
“I won’t.”
“I think we’re gonna find out.”

That’s exactly what all of us get to find out by the end of the film. The results may seem to be in doubt, but they really shouldn’t be if you’ve been paying attention to what’s really going on with Bound. It was all right there in the Aretha Franklin song that plays during an early scene in the film. It’s just that with any authentic relationship, trust has to be earned.

Cinematographer Bill Pope shot Bound on 35mm film using Arriflex cameras with spherical lenses, framed at 1.85:1 for its theatrical release. This version is based on a new 4K scan of the original camera negative, with a few sections utilizing a 35mm interpositive instead. (Presumably the cut camera negative from the R-rated domestic version was used for the majority of the running time, with the missing footage from the unrated international cut and any optical work being supplied from the interpositive.) Everything was digitally cleaned up and then graded for High Dynamic Range in both Dolby Vision and HDR10. The results are outstanding, and any differences between the elements are barely perceptible. The image is virtually spotless, with both the fine detail and the grain being perfectly resolved—the single stray hair on the back of Caesar’s collar when Violet tells him that she just saw Johnny downstairs is sharp as a tack (and it may not even be visible on smaller displays). Criterion has had a mixed record with the encoding on their 4K releases, but there aren’t any issues here. The contrast range is outstanding, and it really enhances the noir feel of Bound. There’s little to complain about here.

Speaking of which, note that this version does include altered closing credits that accurately reflect how the Wachowskis choose to identify today. As alterations go, that shouldn’t bother anyone—and it’s not like this is the original North American theatrical version anyway. This is the Wachowskis’ preferred version of the film, from the first frame to the last.

Audio is offered in 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, with optional English subtitles. Bound was released theatrical in both 5.1 Dolby Digital and 2.0 Dolby Stereo, and this version has been remastered from the original discrete 5.1 digital master files. It’s a subtle but effective mix that frequently uses sound subjectively to help recreate the character’s mindsets. It keeps the viewer’s attention focused on the front soundstage for most of the film, but then has effects swirl around the room when things start to spiral out of control. The dialogue is crystal clear, and the wonderful score by Don Davis sounds fantastic in this rendition.

Criterion’s 4K Ultra HD release of Bound is a two-disc set that includes a Blu-ray with a 1080p copy for the film. There’s also a 12-page foldout booklet featuring an essay by McKenzie Wark, as well as credits and restoration notes. Aside from the commentary track, all of the extras are offered on the Blu-ray only:


  • Audio Commentary by Lana Wachowski, Lily Wachowski, Zach Staenberg, Susie Bright, Joe Pantoliano, Jennifer Tilly, and Gina Gershon


  • Audio Commentary by Lana Wachowski, Lily Wachowski, Zach Staenberg, Susie Bright, Joe Pantoliano, Jennifer Tilly, and Gina Gershon
  • Pipeline to Seduction (HD – 16:45)
  • Gina Gershon and Jennifer Tilly (HD – 26:38)
  • Joe Pantoliano (HD – 15:05)
  • Christopher Meloni (HD – 9:53)
  • Modern Noir (HD – 29:00)
  • Playing with Expectations (HD – 13:55)
  • Part and Parcel (HD – 6:50)
  • Trailers (Upscaled SD – 4:51, 2 in all)

The commentary was originally recorded for the 1997 LaserDisc release from Republic Pictures, and it’s a doozy. Oh, not at first, but wait for it. The track opens with the Wachowskis joined by editor Zach Steinberg and technical advisor Susie Bright. It’s a great back-and-forth dialogue between the four of them, with Steinberg elaborating on their intentions, and Bright providing her own unique perspective. She points out the repeated motif of what she calls the “nasty wet business” on display throughout the film, and even describes the whole film as being wet. The Wachowskis wanted to convey that lesbian sex is like any sex, good, wholesome, and satisfying. Since movies are inherently exploitative, they didn’t want to treat the lesbian relationship exploitatively, and Bright was crucial to that process. Joe Pantoliano joins the group after a few minutes, chiming in occasionally. Then, nearly two-thirds of the way through the track, Jennifer Tilly and Gina Gershon show up, and things go off the rails—that’s not a criticism, either. There’s off the rails, and then there’s gloriously off the rails. Jennifer Tilly is always gonna Jennifer Tilly, and she pretty much dominates the rest of the track (although Gershon does her fair share of joining in). The Wachowskis are frequently reduced to just chuckling in the background while Tilly motors her way through. While that will doubtless be a matter of taste, it’s hard not to laugh along with them.

The sole new extra is Pipeline to Seduction, a visual essay by film critic Christina Newland. Newland explains how the Wachowskis explored the visual tropes of film noir and traditional pornography while simultaneously subverting them. (She also notes the motifs of hands, water, and wetness in Bound.) The rest of the extras are all archival ones, with details following from Dennis Seuling’s review of Criterion’s Blu-ray only release of Bound:

Gina Gerson and Jennifer Tilly – Gershon says her agent advised her not to do the film, but she was so impressed with the character of Corky that she accepted the role. Jennifer Tilly also felt the script was smart and well written. Tilly originally wanted to play Corky but Linda Hamilton had already been offered the part. Gershon hit it off with the Wachowskis and they wanted to see her and Tilly together. Tilly was taking taekwando lessons and preparing for the role of Corky but the directors always saw her as Violet. Gershon worked at not being overly physical but conveying her thoughts through expression. “It was very controlled.” The two stars talk about their characters and their approach to the roles. Both women had to convey their characters’ vulnerability. Lesbianism was not commonly portrayed in films at the time, which made Bound controversial. The Wachowskis were thoroughly prepared. The film was well thought out and organized, and they were pleased with how it turned out. Despite favorable notices, the film didn’t last long in theaters due to the unusual subject matter and poor marketing. Bound has since become a cult classic.

Joe Pantoliano – Pantoliano says that he takes a role based on the filmmakers he’ll be working with. He had done Risky Business, The Goonies, and The Fugitive when Bound came along, so he was already an established actor. He read the script of Bound and liked it. The Wachowskis hired him because he agreed to a salary $25,000 less than another actor under consideration for the part. The Wachowskis asked Pantoliano to watch The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, a film that deals with the growing paranoia of its characters. He was inspired by the Wachowskis’ work ethic. Pantoliano says, “filmmaking is a series of compromises based on collaboration.” Bound was critically acclaimed and was especially popular with lesbian women. The film marked Pantoliano’s first film lead. (Note from Stephen: this interview was conducted in 2014, so when Pantoliano refers to the directors as Lana and Andy, he was identifying them correctly at that point in time.)

Christopher Meloni – The character of Johnnie was out of control; nobody wanted to be around Johnnie. At this point in Meloni’s career, any role was welcome. The co-directors had their own style, melding graphic novels with the best of Hong Kong cinema. The murder of Caesar took five hours to rig. In the scene when Johnnie tortures another man, the other actor was accidentally hurt. Meloni was in awe of what the Wachowskis were producing. Bound gave him confidence. “It was a great experience.”

Modern Noir – In this featurette, director of photography Bill Pope, editor Zach Staenberg, and composer Don Davis discuss Bound and their contributions. It wasn’t a typical script and included no over-the-top special effects. Pope replaced the original cinematographer, who quit after learning he would have to work with very limited resources. Because the Wachowskis were under contract to Dino De Laurentiis, he was offered Bound first, but passed. When the screenplay was put on the open market, there were four offers and De Laurentiis wound up producing it. The film’s budget was one million dollars. After Jennifer Tilly was cast, the producers were able to raise more money. The final budget was $3.5 million. The Wachowskis are so much in sync that talking to one is like talking to both. The bedroom scene involved the directors yelling directions as the camera circled the bed and grips removing walls and replacing them to accommodate the moving camera. The preferred take of this scene was deemed to too explicit. Pope believes a sex scene has to have a higher meaning in terms of plot progression. A lot of Bound plays with time and is a precursor of bullet time in The Matrix. Bound was a film the audience connected to and enabled the Wachowskis to get the job of directing The Matrix.

Playing with Expectations – Film scholars Jennifer Moorman and B. Ruby Rich share their observations about the Wachowskis’ play on gender roles and sexuality in Bound in this featurette from the 2018 Olive Films release (which was titled The Difference Between You and Me).

Part and Parcel – In this featurette, Patti Podesta describes how she created the movie’s title sequence, which required large three-dimensional letters, motion control camera, programmed lighting, and high contrast to connect with the style of graphic novels.

It’s a great slate of extras (even if your own opinion of the commentary track may vary), but there are still a few things from previous releases that haven’t been included here. Many of Criterion’s extras were originally from the Arrow Video’s 2014 Region B Blu-ray, but Arrow’s disc also included two different vintage Making of featurettes from 1996, as well as additional trailers, TV spots, and a Stills Gallery. The 2018 Blu-ray from Olive Films also added the essay We Know How This Ends by Guinevere Turner. M6 Video’s 2009 Region-Free Blu-ray also offered a different behind-the-scenes featurette, as well as brief interviews with Jennifer Tilly, Gina Gershon, and Joey Pants. There’s nothing essential missing here, though, and the gorgeous 4K transfer and solid encode from Criterion makes this the definitive release of Bound to date—although we’ll see if Arrow Video has anything up their sleeves for the future.

- Stephen Bjork w/Dennis Seuling