The HoloFiles

REVIEW: Love Lies Bleeding

By George & Josh Bate

Love Lies Bleeding review

The intersection of romance and crime is one of cinema’s oldest genre match-ups. Bonnie & Clyde became part of common pop culture with the Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway romance crime classic in 1967. Before that, 1950’s In a Lonely Place saw Humphrey Bogart’s Dixon Steele navigate a new romantic relationship as he becomes the suspect in a murder. And even predating that, Lauren Bacall and Bogart again led a timeless tale of love and crime in 1946’s The Big Sleep. Decades later and the romance-crime genre intersection further demonstrates its longevity with Love Lies Bleeding.

From Saint Maud director Rose Glass, who co-writes the screenplay with Weronika Tofilska, Love Lies Bleeding tells the tale of another fateful romance seeped in the underworld of crime. The 1980s-set film stars Kristen Stewart as Lou, a gym manager who develops feelings for Katy O’Brian’s ambitious bodybuilder Jackie. The romance between Lou and Jackie unfolds passionately, but hits a roadblock when they are drawn into the web of Lou’s family of crime, including father Lou Sr. (played by Ed Harris) and brother-in-law JJ (played by Dave Franco).

Love Lies Bleeding review

Love Lies Bleeding is the sort of pulpy, throwback, B-movie thriller that fans of romance-crime classics like Tony Scott’s True Romance will embrace. Seeped in the culture and aesthetic of the 1980s, the film feels simultaneously like a homage to romantic crime films of the past and a contemporary examination of tumultuous, intimate relationships and the consequences of violence. In this sense, Glass’ film has a surprisingly broad appeal for an A24 project, especially one so explicit with its violence and sexuality.

Glass’ film briskly begins by establishing the fast romance between Kristen Stewart’s Lou and Katy O’Brian, doing so in an authentic and passionate manner. Stewart and O’Brian are the heart and soul of this film, so much so that it’s difficult to imagine how these characters could have been actualized by other performers. The two have magnetic chemistry as they effortlessly trade lines and come together to portray an organic romance fated for disaster.

This sense of impending disaster allows Love Lies Bleeding to work fairly well as a thriller beyond the romance that kicks off the film’s narrative. From the very beginning, co-writer and director Rose Glass depicts a grimy world full of dirty environments, unsavory motivations, and a family with plenty of blood on its hands. This is not the Stranger Things-ified clean and nostalgic version of the 1980s, but, rather, one that is unafraid to include drug use, domestic violence, and crime organizations as integral elements of its plot. Creating such a world sets up audience expectations that something bad is going to happen to this romance. And, indeed, something bad does happen.

Love Lies Bleeding review

Like many great romantic-crime tales of the past, Love Lies Bleeding features a cascade of twists, turns, and negative events that follow a single bad decision. This style of storytelling typically fosters a sense of spontaneity as what’s going to happen next constantly remains up in the air. But, unfortunately, the film lacks both unpredictability and enduring intensity. The performances are strong and the characters are interesting, but the plot itself falls short and is far from novel. There are a few sequences of extreme violence that will make some shudder, while other moments effectively keep the audience on their toes. In the end, however, it’s admittedly compelling while seldom exciting outside of the film’s romance.

Both sides of this romance are excellent, although it’s Katy O’Brian that delivers a scene-stealing and star-making performance. O’Brian’s Jackie is a warm and kind character, introduced to Stewart’s Lou (and the audience) with a massive smile and endearing ambition. Like Lou, the audience can’t help but be fascinated by Jackie and drawn to her brightness in an otherwise dark and ugly world. O’Brian really shines, however, when Jackie’s brightness and, in turn, the romance between Lou and Jackie, is taken down to a level of depravity, substance use, and violence. After relatively small roles in The Mandalorian and Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, O’Brian is finally given a chance to show off her versatility and dynamism after primarily playing more stoic characters. 

Love Lies Bleeding review

Serving as the film’s antagonist, meanwhile, is Ed Harris as Lou Sr. Harris, who sports an almost comical long-hair wig, is arguably more menacing than he’s ever been as a ruthless crime figure estranged from his daughter played by Kristen Stewart. Collectively, these three stars and the characters they portray are captivating and deserve a plot more intense and novel. That being said, director Glass swings for the fences with an ending that dips into fantasy and is all the more interesting for it. 

VERDICT: 7/10

Love Lies Bleeding marks director Rose Glass’ follow-up to the acclaimed Saint Maud and asserts the filmmaker as a name to pay attention to. Continuing a long lineage of romantic crime films, Glass’ movie features a passionate romance fated for disaster and a tone that is dark and grimy as the world the characters are situated in. Kristin Stewart and Ed Harris deliver solid performances, but it’s Katy O’Brian who produces a star-making turn in a role that proves she’s made for the big screen. A twisting and turning plot proves to be mostly compelling, despite lacking the intensity of the film’s romance and novelty to set it apart from other, similar films. Although the film falls short of its immense potential, Love Lies Bleeding has enough emotion and muscle to show that the long-standing romantic-crime genre of film still has a beating heart.

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