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Review by Gregory Avery
Posted 2 April 1999

  Directed by Doug Liman.

Starring Sarah Polley, Katie Holmes,
Nathan Bexton, Timothy Oliphant, Desmond Askew,
Taye Diggs, Scott Wolf, Jay Mohr, W
illiam Fichtner and J.E. Freeman.

Written by John August.

When we first see Ronna, the supermarket check-out clerk played by Sarah Polley in Go, she has the resigned, unmistakable look of someone who's been ground-down by life and sees no opportunities for improvement in her future. She tells people where to find their coupons listed on their receipts, and quietly tells customers who sass her where to get-off when she needs to. She pulls 14-hour shifts, probably because someone told her that if she didn't, she'd be out on the street with no job. When the story opens, it's Christmas, and she's short on her rent for next month. This is the type of situation that either makes or breaks people.

Ronna decides to see the depraved Todd (Timothy Oliphant), a drug dealer, to score some stuff that she can re-sell at a "Mary Xmas" rave being held that evening, for quick cash. Well, as Otis L. Guernsey, Jr. wrote when he reviewed a play called "Xmas in Las Vegas", which opened on Broadway in the Sixties and folded after playing a pitiful number of performances, don't go to anything that uses "Xmas" instead of "Christmas".

Las Vegas, in fact, also figures in the film Go, which has three intersecting stories and thus will bear, whether it likes it or not, comparisons to Pulp Fiction, along with its punchy music score and cinematic flourishes. (Among other things, this film has the fastest opening credits sequence I can recall seeing, lately.) The plot structure is nothing new: Chaucer did it, and so did Vicki Baum and Katherine Anne Porter. However, Go is not a Tarantino wannabe. It turns out to have a voice and a style distinctly all its own.

One of Ronna's co-workers at the market, Simon (Desmond Askew), who has a short thatch of red hair and a Glasweglian accent, is the one who first puts her onto the rave. But whereas Ronna, as portrayed by Polley in an ultimately stunning performance, is a hard cookie but smart and resolute, too, Simon is the type of guy who always tries to act and seem clever and smooth but ends up fumbling things haplessly. Spending Christmas in Vegas, that modern day chamber of horrors, he ends up, sometimes in or out of the company of Marcus (Taye Diggs), riding in a stolen Lamborghini, with a bright shiny gun in the glove compartment, having relations with two girls he picked-up at a wedding reception while the room catches on-fire, goes to a lapdance parlor called the Crazy Horse (where he looks around, craning his neck, agog and excited, as if he had just stepped into a treasure cave full of wondrous loot), and is involved in a harrowing car chase, pursued by some very mean guys, indeed.

Ronna, meanwhile, attempts to sell her newly-obtained goods---and she has never dealt-drugs, before---to some guys who appear to be college preppies out for a thrill, but she picks up the wrong signals from them. Her perceptions turn out to be correct. Adam (Scott Wolf) and Zack (Jay Mohr) are in fact two guys who work as actors on a soap opera, out doing some research with a real narcotics cop named Burke (William Fichtner). Their misadventures are comprised mostly of what happens to them after their encounter with Ronna. Burke, who keeps making comments about how fit each of the two younger men look, invite them over to his place for Christmas dinner with him and the wife. Nervously, Zack starts making comments on the current state of his relationship with his girlfriend---he thinks she's being unfaithful, so, now, he's started being unfaithful as well. Adam says he's going through the same thing, too, with his girlfriend. At one point, it appears as if the two guys are being unfaithful with the other guy's girlfriend, only they haven't found out about it until now.

This is the director Doug Liman's first film since his surprisingly enjoyable film Swingers, about a group of guys trying, with some success, to imitate the cool, breezy style of the guys who cruised through the lounges and casino showrooms of Hollywood and Vegas in the Fifties and early Sixties. (Liman's also done one previous film, Getting In, a black comedy set at a medical university, which features a smashing performance by Andrew McCarthy.) Go, which Liman directed from an original screenplay by John August, seems light-years removed, in many ways. It is urgent and immediate, brilliantly shot (Liman also did the cinematography) and edited (by Stephen Mirrione), and it starts out with a bang and pulses along in a way that creates a giddy, euphoric atmosphere. Yet it never loses touch with its characters, who sometimes go racing through the proceedings in a way that seems as crazy and dangerous as an amusement park loop-the-loop ride. It makes room to incorporate some perfectly delightful individual bits, like when Ronna's friend Mannie (Nathan Bexton), fueled on ecstasy tabs, livens up the deadening atmosphere at the supermarket by liberating one of the checkout clerks and gamboling with her down the aisles and through the produce section, while a remixed version of Los Del Rios' "Macarena" plays on the soundtrack. (The picture, incidentally, has a shrewdly and impeccably chosen array of songs to accompany the action.)

Compared to the would-be hipsters in Swingers, though, the characters in Go are much lower down on the social ladder. These are folks who don't have, or have put to one side, glittering dreams dancing in their heads, as they have come to live in the milieu into which they have been assigned. The picture has a low-down feeling to it, sometimes in ways that are a bit uncomfortable: there's a spectacularly obscene joke told by one of the characters at the beginning of the Vegas episode (involving a contact lens), and the ways in which some of them seek diversion seems tawdry and

cheap, even a little pathetic. One character (J.E. Freeman), the hard-bitten proprietor of the Crazy Horse, emits a snarling remark comparing the present generation to the past: where once people sought to get-ahead by improving themselves and doing the best they can, now they get ahead in the world by being lazy and getting promoted only when the person ahead of them does something so outrageously incompetent that they get booted out of their position. This is more than disparaging, but one wonders if the picture, in some ways, isn't confirming what he is saying.

The episode with Zack and Adam ends up showing them getting into a serious fix, and, stunned and uncertain, they try to equivocate their way out of doing the decent thing. Without revealing too much about what happens, I will say that the picture flirts dangerously close with a form of xenophobia, here, one that would have certainly brackened the waters if it didn't pull-back enough in time. What the picture turns out to be doing, overall, is something of another level: showing how each of the characters responds to a certain situation, and, with what it has already told us about them, showing just how much fortitude they may, or may not, come through with in response. Some react in an overtly craven way, other in ways that are more subtle but nonetheless cowardly.

The epilogue of the film, which occurs the morning following the rave, shows how three of the characters unhesitatingly come to the aid of a third, and the film ends on a note that is oddly touching. Here are three people, scrabbling to survive from one day to the next, putting up with a lot, and whose lives, from one viewpoint, wouldn't seem to add up to a lot, but when their bonds of friendship are tested, they come through. The flash and the beat in this film may be but a faint veil for lives that would otherwise be seem hopeless and bleak, but Go concludes on an affirming note, saying that there is still a trace of nobility to be found among people even in a day and age such as ours.


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