Saturday, December 19, 2009
1999 was one hell of a year for American cinema with works as varied as Eyes Wide Shut, Magnolia, The Insider and Being John Malkovich startling audiences all over the world. That sizzling twelve month period was filled with dozens of overlooked treasures as well ranging from Andrew Fleming’s delightfully smart and funny Dick to David Cronenberg’s sinister and prophetic eXistenz to Alexander Payne’s vicious black comedy Election. One of the key films of that year, and of the nineties in general, was the sadly overlooked third feature from Swingers director Doug Liman, the absolutely brilliant and audacious Go.
Shot on location in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, and constructed in a bold non-linear style, Go features a cast made up of some of the best young actors of the late nineties, including Sarah Polley, Katie Holmes, Taye Diggs and Timothy Olyphant. One of the most ingenious and propulsive American films of the period, Go is a indie masterpiece that has still not quite gotten the recognition it deserved. Working from a wonderfully original script by future Tim Burton collaborator John August, Liman followed up the success of Swingers with a sharp, funny, sometimes shocking and unbelievably entertaining film that has still yet to be recognized as one of the great works in one of American cinema’s most pivotal periods.
John August hadn’t even reached his thirtieth birthday when he sold his rather audacious script for Go, a work originally planned as a short film, in the late nineties. The Colorado born former journalism major was one of the decades major, if unheralded, discoveries and while Go might still remain his most ingenious achievement his work since ranging from ultra-commercial pictures like Charlie’s Angels to particularly personal visions like Big Fish have all been marked by a keen intelligence and a invigorating originality. Go is an incredibly well written film, one that manages to be hip without condescending and funny without being juvenile.
The career of New York born Doug Liman has been one of the most unpredictable in recent memory. Wetting his feet in smart Indie comedies like Swingers , Liman has spent most of this decade making big budget action films like the tremendous Bourne Identity and the flawed but interesting Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Go is his greatest work though and his razor sharp direction of the film is a propulsive delight. Go breaks out of the gate at a gallop and it’s a breathtaking ride from its rave inspired opening credits to its sobering final moments on a chilly Los Angeles Christmas morning.
Attempting any sort of routine plot synopsis of Go would be a challenge at best. Like Pulp Fiction, a film it couldn’t escape lazy comparisons to back in 1999, it expertly follows several main characters throughout a handful of interconnecting storylines. Written and shot with an incredibly cool wit and managing a jaw-dropping unpredictability from the first sequence to the last, Go is one of the most brilliantly constructed films in recent memory. Multi-layered on every level, even the one-word title escapes no less than several definitions throughout the film’s running time.
While Liman's direction is extremely smart and solid, it is his cinematography that really separates Go from pretty much any American Indie film of the period. A joy to watch, Liman's terrific color-scheme manages a certain dingy euphoria throughout and he expertly balances the looks of the different locations into a cohesive whole. Liman really stretches the film's relatively small 6 million dollar budget, making Go look like a much more expensive film than it actually was.
For all of the greatness inherent in both Liman’s work and August’s screenplay, not to mention editor Stephen Mirrione’s skillful and inventive cutting, Go would have fallen flat on its clever face had it not been for its extraordinary ensemble cast. From the mysterious opening scene featuring a wonderfully sly and slightly mischievous Katie Holmes, who is really wonderful here, to the closing moments featuring a battered but victorious Sarah Polley, equally as good, Go is packed with unforgettable characters portrayed by a really gifted group of actors. The fact that anyone manages to outshine the tremendous Timothy Olyphant (why isn't this guy a huge star?), shows just how large the arsenal of young talent was in this period of American filmmaking.
Go’s position as a film very much of its period is an interesting one because despite all of its references, the hat tips to everything from The Breakfast Club to Alanis Morissette, Liman’s film still feels incredibly fresh and vital. If it is dated at all, it is more due to the fact that you would be hard pressed to find a film this original and brilliantly conceived in today’s theaters. In a decade marked by change and reinvention, Go was one of the ideal final films of the nineties and, for many of us who hold the promises of that decade close to heart, it remains an extremely noteworthy work and statement.
Doug Liman's follow-up to Swingers would not receive the same amount of attention that now iconic film had been given. Perhaps Go was a little too smart and layered for most movie-goers or perhaps they just mistook it for another teen comedy. Go did receive mostly enthusiastic reviews from American critics, with just a few holdouts, and its near 25 million take at the box-office was nothing for parent company Columbia to hang their corporate heads about. Still, Go didn't catch fire like it should have and it remains somewhat of a buried treasure begging for rediscovery. The DVD contains a terrific commentary track, a short featurette and a whopping 14 deleted scenes.
As we are nearing the end of this decade, I'm finding myself breathing a major sigh of relief. I'm also feeling more and more nostalgic for our pre-download, always plugged-in, existence. The one thing everyone in Go has in common is that they are very much alive. They are splintered, fractured and more than a little fucked up but they are ALIVE. Our zombiefied nation of people who now experience everything on a screen designed for their palm might experience a personal and spiritual revolution with an introduction to Doug Liman's invigorating film. I feel a real personal connection to Go and its (if you can't open the window then put a brick through it) characters. While the title of the film has a lot of different connotations, I will take it as a call to arms in this upcoming decade to shift from park to drive and fucking GO.
***For a more detailed look at the history of, and critical reaction to Go, I recommend Joe Valdez's great look at the film at This Distracted Globe.***