(1999) dir. Doug Liman
In talking to someone about the new horror film, Splice (2009), I was talking about star Sarah Polley and I was trying to note the film for which she is best known, so that someone would know about whom I was speaking. I mentioned Go, director Doug Liman’s sophomore feature and somewhat exemplar of 1990’s indie American cinema. How many people had seen the Canadian film about a school bus full of children that drowned in a frozen lake (The Sweet Hereafter (1997))? I mean, I know that she’s been in a ton of films and has even directed a critically acclaimed film of her own, Away From Her (2006). But how does the average person know her, if at all?
I’d fondly recalled Go, which I would consider one of Liman’s two best films along with The Bourne Identity (2002), the film that launched the Matt Damon action series. But it had been a long time since I’d seen it and I started re-thinking it and wondering how it would strike me today. 10 years or so later.
So, that’s how I got here.
Heavily influenced by Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction (1994) (which I also haven’t seen in a long, long time, despite its cultural ubiquity), Go was Liman’s follow-up to Swingers (1996), his breakthrough film starring Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau, from a script by Favreau, which put them all on the map, highlighted against the upsurgent swing music revival in Los Angeles and Las Vegas in the mid-1990’s. I frankly had found Favreau and Vaughn immensely annoying in that film and found the film kind of annoying, too. But I liked Go.
The film follows a non-linear narrative, splintered into three, not necessarily Rashômon (1950)-like, but more just a playful twist on the theme of following sets of intersecting characters and the duration of one day/night series of adventures. The themes are sex, drugs, and raves, which is also a cultural snapshot of sorts, one arguably not necessarily as tuned into the pulse of the time as Swingers, though perhaps its as relevant today, I don’t know.
A small time English drug dealer (who also works at a supermarket), goes to Vegas with some friends on a romp. Two young men come into the store looking for him and approach Polley, the rent-delinquent and in-need of cash clerk, asking her if she can help them score some ecstacy. She sees an opportunity to make some money and approaches the English guy’s drug dealer herself, hoping to make the money she needs to help her evade eviction. Turns out that the guys are actually working with a demented cop, trying to create a sting operation, because they had been busted for possession.
I could certainly elaborate on the plot, but it’s one of those movies that relies heavily on twists and turns and surprises, not just coincidences, to create a sense of ever-escalating insanity. And I think it worked quite well for me the first time through back in 1999 or whenever I saw it initially.
Polley’s story goes first, so she seems like the core, though the English guy and the two actors-cum-sting-operators get equal time in the re-cap of each groups increasing chaos of a night, interestingly enough, Christmas eve. And the film has a number of notable young names of the time beyond Polley, including Jay Mohr and Katie Holmes. Not necessarily one of those key castings that seem to capture a huge slate of young talent, but not a shabby line-up, either.
The film is entertaining. Not only does it channel Pulp Fiction but it rings as well of The Hangover (2009), for instance, not merely for its Las Vegas setting, but as the kind of bender movie, a comedy based on the ever-twisting plot and chaos for humor.
As for what the film is saying, which I did find myself asking, it’s a little hard to say. These are all young people, largely behaving badly, getting in lots of varieties of trouble, but ultimately with only bad guys by degree. Are they punished for their wrongdoings? Or do their somewhat full-circle experience of karmic elements bring about some form of justice. And just because they happen to be young enough to endure their beatings, bruisings, embarrassments, fractures, gunshot wounds, where do they wind up except bleary-eyed on Christmas morning, almost entirely without a parental figure in sight.
Maybe as a younger person, you simply identify. You say, oh yeah, I’ve been there (in a relative sense). Maybe as an older person looking at it, you wonder what it’s really all about. Sex, drugs, and pumping rave music. Comedy. Not bad. But I do wonder if this is one of the better exemplars of 1990’s American indie movies or it’s more part of the average. Not sure, but leaning toward the latter.