“Romeo is Bleeding”: Lena Olin’s Mona Demarkov is the most evil and diabolical femme fatale in movie history

By on March 19, 2016

Violence, unbridled mayhem and a big dose of sex in your face. Have I got your attention?

Peter Medac’s 1994 film Romeo Is Bleeding features the phenomenally beautiful and sexy Lena Olin, who plays Mona Demarkov, the most wicked and evilly diabolic femme fatale in movie history.

(Here’s where you should stop reading if you don’t want to know about any spoilers!)

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Mona is sociopathic and predatory Russian hit woman who desires to ruthlessly obtain as much money and power as she can and lord help anyone who stands in her way.

In the interim, she easily seduces Jack Grimaldi (Gary Oldman), a veteran NY cop who is busy attempting to play both ends against the middle by waving a massive amount of dirty money in his face.

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It doesn’t hurt that Mona offers her body along with the deal. Every time we see her she’s dressed alluringly, looking lewd and lascivious in her high heels, black or white lace stockings and other delicate undergarments.

Like most men, Grimaldi loses all train of rational thought when confronted by Mona, who salaciously titillates poor Jack and turns his brain to mush, and it’s not hard to see why. Grimaldi is not too bright to begin with.

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He cheats on his gorgeous wife, Natalie (Annabella Sciorra) at every opportunity he gets with a cute but low-class waitress, Sherri (Juliette Lewis), who loves Grimaldi and is desperately trying her best to arouse him to no avail.

Grimaldi shows up at various stakeouts so he can ogle the prostitutes on the premises, and he informs the mob where their turncoats are being housed so they can be eliminated before they spill their guts at their trial date. Thereafter, large sums of money are then installed in a post office box for him and he’s on his way.

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Sherri comes to the conclusion that Grimaldi is much more trouble than he’s worth, what with him being married, and she’s announces that she’s leaving. Since his life seems to be going downhill in a hurry, Grimaldi doesn’t really put up much of an argument.

Grimaldi’s problems really begin in earnest when he’s ordered by the heartless, reigning mob boss Don Falcone (Roy Scheider) to kill Mona. He refuses at first, but then Mona devises a plan: she offers him a huge suitcase full of money to fake her death and come up with a death certificate.

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They intend to meet at the docks to exchange papers and the money he’s promised, but then he happens to run into Falcone (Scheider), who orders his minions to take one of his toes as a security deposit.

At this point Grimaldi is in a panic state and rushes home to admit what he’s done to his wife, and he collects his ill-deserved money from a hole in the backyard, and comes up with a plan to send Natalie away. They’re to meet every six months — on May 1 and December 1 — at an almost-deserted diner off of route 10 in Arizona. He drops his wife off at the airport, but he then has to stay hidden away so he can’t be found and killed.

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Mona playfully teases him when they arrive at the dock and he’s in the car coddling the remainder of the money he’s owed, before she surprises him by affixing a wire around his neck and attempts to strangle him. This is probably the best action scene in the film as they both fall out of the car and Jack manages to shoots her in the arm. She pretends to be lifeless, but when he approaches her she latches on to his genitalia and doesn’t let go until he pummels her senseless.

Once he handcuffs her, gets her in the back seat and believes her to be unconscious, he drives off to discover he’s made another serious mistake. She affixes her legs over the seat and begins to strangle him yet again with her feet as she maniacally laughs until he winds up crashing the car into a lamppost rendering him insentient.

Like the demon she truly is, Mona squirms her way out of the back seat, collects the money that Grimaldi thought was his, grabs her death certificate between her teeth and kicks out the front window before sprinting down the street in broad daylight with her hands handcuffed behind her back and her goods in tow. An incredibly impressive feat.

Mona is still missing in action when Grimaldi is keeping an eye on Sal (Michael Wincott), one of mob executives to see if he might learn anything regarding his predicament. Lo and behold Mona shows up to confront Sal and kills him while Grimaldi watches. Unfortunately for him, Mona has installed Sherri in the basement of the large hotel tied to some pipes, and when Grimaldi rushes in, he mistakes her for Mona and opens fire, killing her. His world continues to come apart at the seams.

As he stumbles down the street the next day he spies a newspaper vendor and stops to find a headline that declares that Mona has died in a fire the night before (it would be too much of a spoiler to explain this), and turns to see what he thinks are Falcone’s thugs bearing down on him. Being in the Coney Island neighborhood he escapes into Deno’s Wonder Wheel Amusement Park in a futile attempt to get away, but he fails miserably.

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He wakes up in a run-down warehouse, handcuffed to a bed and only then does he discover that the hoods were working in Mona’s behalf, not Falcone’s as he first thought. Mona proceeds to lay her head on his shoulder and coyly asks him if he would like to buy some time before revealing her nudity and enticing him to have sex with her, which doesn’t take much effort at all.

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We next see them in a car when Mona is confessing her first sexual encounter, before she gets out and announces “Let’s get him out.” Grimaldi discovers that she’s referring to crime boss Falcone, who is tied up in the trunk. Grimaldi immediately refuses to kill him, when she tells him, “I just want you to bury him. If he dies in the process that’s his problem,” and “You can dig one grave, or you can dig two.”

So dig he does while Mona has her gun trained on him the entire time. When the hole is completed she ambles up behind Falcone, and embraces him before casually kicking him into the pit and orders Grimaldi to fill the trench. When he’s done she advises that he’s now a free man. If only it were true.

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They both retire to a hotel to do a victory dance of sorts before going up to a room where Grimaldi’s payment is waiting for him. But before he can get away she lowers her skirt and invites him to have one last fuck. Evidently it still hasn’t dawned on Jack that Mona has been playing him for a sucker all along and they barely get started when the door is opened and his police buddies are there to arrest him. Mona calmly announces, “Look out. He has a gun.”

Grimaldi’s life is thoroughly over thanks to his own ignorance. The ever resourceful Mona manages to cut a deal for herself, while Jack is headed to jail and when they see each other in the courtroom hallway he attempts to attack her before he’s restrained.

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But Mona knows all too who is in charge at this point and begins to belittle him, telling him that he never meant anything to her and what a dry hump he was. Just what a man wants to hear. The ultimate humiliation. She doesn’t stop though and goes on to tell him that he’ll never see his wife again and his life is over.

Grimaldi is disintegrating before our eyes and when his rage reaches the point of no return he manages to retrieve one his fellow policeman’s gun from an ankle holster and shoots Mona as she’s leaving, splattering blood and body parts on the courthouse floor. He then swallows the barrel of the gun and pulls the trigger numerous times, but the cartridges have all been spent.

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Grimaldi is ultimately relocated under an assumed name and waits for his wife to show up every May 1st, or December 1st, but she never does. He remains a broken man.

There is an abundance of plot, sure-handed direction by Medac, a supporting cast that’s perfection (including David Proval, Will Patton, Dennis Farina, James Cromwell, Tony Sirico and Ron Perlman) and a great naturalistic NYC setting (Romeo Is Bleeding was filmed on location in Coney Island, Bushwick, Manhattan, and Queens).

The soundtrack mostly consists of a mournful muted jazz trumpet throughout, and no, the film’s title doesn’t have anything to do with the Tom Waits song with the same name, but it’s what inspired screenwriter Hilary Henkin.

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And in spite of Olin’s character’s bad, and even atrocious behavior, you’re likely to be painfully in love with her by the end of the movie. And terrified too, if you know what’s good for you. Who the hell can explain desire? Anyone?

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About Tom Brown

Tom has published two terrific books, Summer Of Love, My Ass!: A Memoir June 12, 1967 – April 28, 1969, and Confessions Of A ZAPPA Fanatic, both credited to H.T. Brown (but please call him Tom). They’re both available from Amazon and other places where you can buy books. He's also previously worked in the music business, on both sides of the coin (or lack of it), at the venerable Rhino record company, and playing drums on the surf classic "Jezabel" by the Illusions, and with Zoogz Rift, beginning in 1988.
  • Meredith

    Mr. Tom Brown – I salute your review for ‘Romeo Is Bleeding’. It’s been one of my favourite films for years and whenever the calendar lands on the 1st of either May or December, I always think of this film. Most people do not know of it, and the ones that do, do not care for it – – save for Ms. Olin’s performance.

    *HANDS DOWN*- Mona Demarkov is the sexiest, scariest femme fatale of them all – – and she’s completely underrated.

    What do you think? Do you think Mona got rid of Natalie? Or do you think Mrs. Grimaldi never showed at the diner because she left Jack behind?

    Also, props to the soundtrack. Really. I can’t love this movie more.

    Good Stuff. Great Review/Recap.