Go (1999)

D: Doug Liman
S: Sarah Polley, Desmond Askew, Katie Holmes

Fresh, funny, pointed look at life in the late twentieth century when you're young, irresponsible and willing to take risks. Though it sounds like an apologia for Generation X and their drug-addled apathy and skepticism, Doug Liman's second film (from John August's script) has enough sense to ensure the audience realises that actions have consequences and though it takes an often comic spin on potentially serious subject matter (including drug dealing, casual sex and gun control), that it's not a lifestyle advertisement (as Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels was). Interlinking several stories involving a single group of L.A. denizens circa Christmas Eve, the film charts the varied experiences to be had by people literally in one way or another 'on the go' (the film plays constantly with the title word and returns to it in several contexts in each episode).

It begins with supermarket workers Sarah Polley, Katie Holmes and Nathan Bexton, who become embroiled in the world of low-level drug trafficking when Polley strikes a deal with shady dealer Timothy Olyphant to supply suspiciously wholesome Scott Wolf and Jay Mohr in the absence of regular supplier and co-worker Desmond Askew (who has departed for a night of debauchery in Las Vegas with some friends). A tangled web is shortly weaved which draws out the sub-stories of these and other characters and eventually brings them all back together without ever feeling forced or as co-incidental as the meeting between Ving Rhames and Bruce Willis in Pulp Fiction. It is a portmanteau movie all the same, and its multi-part structure may not necessarily appeal to all viewers. It feels rounded and coherent in spite of this, and there's a pleasing surreality to events as they transpire which eventually makes sense and is wrapped up with an amusing (if predictable) punchline.

The casting is great, presenting a nice profile of interesting young faces which fit perfectly into the scenery of contemporary Los Angeles. Polley is magnetic as the unflappable teen who acts out of necessity, but does so with impunity and determination. Holmes is great in support, and reveals hidden reserves in her character at the climax which force you to look beyond the obvious to see why things happen as they do. Askew has fun as a lone brit in a world of American friends, and even gets to (badly) impersonate an Irish accent to infiltrate a wedding reception and seduce two unlikely Irish girls. The script is packed with interesting incident, most of which is both funny and believable despite its variety. There's a very nice sequence involving Mohr and Wolf which goes in all sorts of directions without stretching credibility, and asks some interesting questions of the culture of superficial appearance though it amounts to a black comic farce. Much of the film revolves around such paradoxes and on deft and slight shifts in tone which keep the audience both intrigued and entertained in a pleasing balance.

On the whole it's a much cleverer picture than it seems to be, and it is entertaining enough that it will find an audience. This is good in the age of high concept, because it's nice to see a good script well performed, directed with good timing and with an ability to allow theme and rhythm to emerge without forcing them. It is well worth a look both for general audiences and the trendy hipsters who may fancy themselves part of its world. It's certainly a better second film than Richard Linklater's disappointingly banal Dazed and Confused though it bears some relationship to it. It's not the most original film you'll ever see, but it accomplishes what is sets out to do with both energy and style.

Review by Harvey O'Brien copyright 1999.