By Marc S. Sanders
Character perspective is so vital to a story. It becomes even more important when you are telling multiple tales. When you have a collection of five or six characters in your screenplay and they each have a circumstance that overlaps with one another, a smart way to narrate one reckless evening is by chopping up the time period into multiple plotlines. Numerous stories offer several perspectives and then you may appreciate what director Doug Liman accomplishes with one of his earliest career films, Go.
Go focuses on an assortment of early twenty-somethings scrounging for money while also taking in the nightlife during an evening close to Christmas. Two supermarket cashiers, Ronna and Simon (Sarah Polley, Desmond Askew) have different things on their mind. Ronna, who is exhausted having worked double shifts, is on the verge of getting evicted from her apartment because she has no money to pay the rent. Simon just wants to go with his buddies for a good time in Las Vegas, but he’s got to work. So, the two swap shifts.
The script follows the Ronna avenue first where she meets up with some acquaintances of Simon’s looking to score some ecstasy. Ronna thinks of a get rich quick scheme to meet with Simon’s drug supplier, Todd (Timothy Olyphant), and then sell to Simon’s buddies directly. Naturally, it doesn’t work out so neatly.
The second act of the film focuses on Simon with three buddies (Taye Diggs, Breckin Meyer and James Duval). Because Simon is written as happy go lucky, but also careless, he’ll get into his own kind of adventures and mischief. It can only happen in Vegas.
The third act turns the viewpoint over to those acquaintances that approached Ronna, two soap opera actors named Zach and Adam (Jay Mohr, Scott Wolf). These guys weren’t just looking to score some drugs. They’re up to something else entirely.
I’ve never been one to take to movies where the characters are intoxicated or high through most of the film. I can only handle so much of Seth Rogen’s drug episode schtick like with Pineapple Express, released years after Go. What’s most appealing about Liman’s film, however, is that you are moving along one path, and then suddenly you are reversed and driving down the other side of the fork in the road. This routine occurs again for a third time.
Much like Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, you can argue that the writer/director could simply take the straight route from beginning to end. Yet is that really interesting? Would Pulp Fiction have worked as well or better than its final composition? Don’t we usually see that approach in everything else out there? As well, these characters are not following a storyline that contains gripping material with symbolism or intense dialogue and circumstances. So, how exactly do you heighten a kid buying drugs off another kid while keeping the viewers’ attention span? You stir the pot. (No pun intended.)
Following a rage dance club effect of opening credits, Liman does a close up of Katie Holmes as Claire, Ronna’s friend. She’s talking to someone, who we can’t see, about how fun the surprises are with opening Christmas presents. Go works from beginning to end because it turns in surprise encounters that you would never expect. Call it a butterfly effect. A flap of the wings leads to this encounter which leads to that encounter and so on. If you are taken with the film, you just might smirk with pleasant surprise when you uncover who Claire is actually speaking to.
Early on in the film, we will see a one-sided conversation on the phone. Later we will see the other side of that same call and I get a kick out seeing a story running parallel to another story I just got done seeing. (Forgive the redundancy of that sentence, but that’s the point!)
Another moment will have a character draw a gun on another character, only a hit and run with a car disrupts the moment. Thankfully, we’ll meet the personalities behind that car later on. As the picture becomes more and more clear, you might cheer “Bravo!” at the invention of Go.
As noted before, Doug Liman’s movie has been compared to the drive behind Pulp Fiction. I understand the temptation to make that association. However, this movie stands on its own. Where Tarantino will show perspective of different characters, he will branch off into forward thinking with new events. Go steers its focus to parallel plot points. We see what’s occurring in Los Angeles right now with Ronna. Later, we will see what’s happening in Las Vegas at that very same time with Simon. Tarantino picks up where we left off. Liman documents what’s happening elsewhere. While these two characters are going along their own paths simultaneously in different parts of the universe, what happens to one of them will bear on what happens to the other as the trajectories continue.
I might be making this out to be fancier than it ever needed to be, but it’s a kick ass good time, nonetheless. The soundtrack is absolutely fun. You get absorbed in the settings, almost wanting to be in the Christmas night club party with strobe lights and neon colors, or the Vegas casinos and strip joints. The personalities and dialogue are super smart and witty with hilarious comebacks. “If you were any more white, you’d be clear!”
At the time Go was released in 1999, from a marketing perspective, it did not appear all that attractive. Lots of club music and symphonics surround the picture. The most marquee name in the film, probably still, is Katie Holmes who is not exactly on the same level as an Angelina Jolie or even a Jennifer Lawrence of today. Yes. Nearly twenty-five years later many of these young actors are more recognizable. I dare you to come up with their names though as soon as you see them in the picture. However, because I’m not watching Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt, I have no expectations of how any of these various storylines are going to turn out. When the film leaves the Ronna storyline, are we going to get to see what happens to her next? Will Simon get back from Vegas? Lots of questions abound as the film moves on.
While Go is reveling in its debauchery, it’s performing as a smart machine that hits all the right notes where it will lay the groundwork for comedy, but then segue into serious material where the protagonists find themselves in a situation they might not be able to escape. Go is a movie that keeps you alert, even if you’re high, during one sleepless and irresponsible night.