In the interview that’s included amongst the extras for Romeo is Bleeding, director Peter Medak states that the film was a failure on its initial 1994 release as it was the wrong time for it. It’s difficult to see just what time this polished piece of neo-noir would fit. It’s too violent and profanity laden for the golden age of noir, but it’s not sophisticated enough for an older ‘90s audience whose cinematic maturity would have been shaped by such ‘70s fare as All the President’s Men, Taxi Driver, and Apocalypse Now.
Gary Oldman plays Jack Grimaldi, a crooked witness protection cop that sells the locations of witnesses to his mob boss (Roy Scheider). Just to endear you to the character even more, he cheats on his wife (Annabella Sciorra) with a fantasy indulging waitress (Juliette Lewis). And then he encounters sexually obsessed psycho mob mistress Mona Demarkov (Lena Olin), who enjoys watching Jack get caught, quite literally, with his pants down. Eventually Jack is framed for the murder of two fellow cops, but Mona is charged for the deaths, the mob boss wants Mona dead and he wants Jack to do the killing, but the FBI wants Mona breathing, which complicates things, and Mona offers Jack a deal to tempting to refuse, whilst he has his pants down naturally.
Romeo is Bleeding perhaps tries too hard to be typical noir. There’s Oldman’s portentously pithy yet leaden narration, Olin’s predatory femme fatale, perhaps the most over-the-top lethal of fatales ever committed to celluloid (it seems that Olin was enjoying herself anyway), and Mark Isham’s jazz score that is so jazzed as to be intrusive rather than subtly enhancing the film. As a result the film comes across as being an ironic pastiche rather than legitimate neo-noir.
Peter Medak is a truly gifted director. He achieved acclaim with the satirical Peter O’Toole comedy The Ruling Class, Let Him Have It with Christopher Eccleston earned headlines by exposing a justice system that seemed more intent on meting out vengeance, and the heart breaking The Changeling is one of the finest ghost stories committed to film. It’s a shame then that Romeo is Bleeding is such a misstep in what is otherwise a varied and illustrious career.
The extras are somewhat sparse on this Blu-ray release. There’s a trailer, that completely miss sells the film, but how often have we seen those? Alexandra Heller-Nicholas commentary goes into great depth about gender politics in genre films. Heller-Nicholas also discusses Annabella Sciorra’s alleged rape by Harvey Weinstein during the making of the film. This was only brought to light when she and other women bravely gave testimony against him. The interview, which was conducted under lock down conditions is illuminating. He discusses his life in Communist Hungary before escaping to Britain where his career began. And finally there’s Mark Isham’s isolated score for those of you that enjoy overbaked jazz.