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Go
cast: William Fichtner, Katie Holmes, Sarah Polley, Jay Mohr, and Timothy Olyphant

director: Doug Liman

101 minutes (18) 1999
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Sony blu-ray Region B retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Richard Bowden
Those who relish the narrative style and humour of Pulp Fiction ought not to overlook Go, Doug Liman's less well-known effort from just a few years later. Although ultimately unable to match Tarantino's celebrated narrative verve, budget, and overall flair for casting, upon re-viewing a decade later Go is still very watchable. Along with The Bourne Identity this is arguably the director's best film, out of a career that has also produced the pot-boiler Mr & Mrs Smith, such deeply guilty pleasures as Jumper, and his very well-regarded debut Swingers. I know many have a warm spot for the latter. But I would turn to Go again more readily, it being unassuming, unpredictable - and made outside the demands of a commercial franchise.

Based around the experiences of associated Californian characters which include participants of a drugs deal that goes wrong, and set deftly over a 24-hour period, Go features three stories, each shot through with varying degrees of black humour and irony. In the first, Ronna Martin (Sarah Polley), a supermarket checkout worker threatened with eviction from her apartment, starts the plot ball rolling with an attempt to score some 'ecstasy' as a one-off to raise some cash. Her regular supplier is off on a trip to Las Vegas, so she takes the chance to bargain direct with dealer Todd Gaines (a splendid Timothy Olyphant). In second strand, entitled 'Simon', we see Ronna's supplier and co-worker (Desmond Askew) on his trip to Vegas and the outrageous events that occur there, and then back home. The third part, 'Adam & Zack', is about two gay TV actors, inveigled by the police to help with a drugs bust. The last part of the film brings much of what has happened together to form a conclusion.

There's much to admire in a film with so many well handled competing elements as Go; it would have been easy for the script to have taken itself too seriously or simply lose focus as incident follows incident, with 10 important characters to keep track of. Instead, spurred perhaps by a relatively short running time, Liman's film shows a sure touch throughout - right from the opening moments, where the viewer's ears and eyes are caught by a notable jump-cut taking us straight from Columbia's logo into the rave scene which forms a central scene of the movie.

Although the cast were largely unknowns and largely drawn from a TV background, (the film was apparently planned for release as an independent production before being picked up by a large studio), the performances are generally good. An exception is Desmond Askew (Simon Baines). The English actor, better known to local audiences as a member of UK TV's Grange Hill, is uneven, especially in his early scenes, although he improves and it is not enough to throw the film off balance. Some have even found his manner ultimately adds to the believability of his character, while he certainly contributes to some of the movie's funniest moments.

Many of the others are added by William Fichtner, playing a drugs cop with peculiar designs on Adam and Zack, who's first threatening, then creepy, and finally absurd. In fact it is the relative obscurity of many of the cast that adds to the freshness. While the plot is hardly original, there is no sense of staleness with several laugh-out-loud moments, at least once away from the dark irony of the opening segment. Writer John August's (a regular Tim Burton collaborator, incidentally) sure touch keeps things moving along in a fashion which only occasionally loses its way - for instance, its not clear why Ronna's friend Claire suddenly finds the drug dealer attractive - while making its inspiration clear with a diner scene a la Pulp Fiction, and some moments of Taratino-esque dialogue.

The obvious derivations of Go, together with some knowing pop in-references, as well as perceived character underwriting, have been enough to garner less appreciative responses from some viewers. But taking all these factors on board, and even with the somewhat hackneyed drugs-deal-gone-bad story at its heart, it remains very likeable, while the story's unpredictability mean it is never stale and frequently very amusing. I recommend it.

Extras on the blu-ray disc are carry-overs from the standard DVD release. There's a commentary track featuring the director and editor Stephen Mirrione (sadly, no John August to illuminate the genesis of his script). There's some discussion about how research was done for the drugs and raves aspect of the movie that's interesting, and the two amply demonstrate the good rapport existing between them after the cameras have stopped. This is an old interview, by the way, so don't expect mention of Liman's recent successes in action cinema. We also hear about the perennial fight against studio interference and how much the music was important to the film. There's a short (six-minute) making-of featurette, which is not particularly enlightening. Included too are almost a half hour of deleted scenes, which promise more than they deliver, perhaps as further confirmation of the director's skill. There's also three music videos, taken from soundtrack songs.
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