(Doug Liman, USA, 1999)


Often, innovation enters cinema via the soundtrack. Doug Liman’s Go is among a string of films – Run Lola Run (1998) is another – which base their aesthetic style upon an almost constant techno-dance music selection. Everything – colours, edits, even performances – seems to be driven by the mesmerising, mechanical rhythms and beats of the sound.

If Go did not possess that abundant verve embodied in its manic, driving soundtrack, it could well be a tiresome, try-hard piece. For once, the advertising hook is pretty apt: this indeed evokes Pulp Fiction (1994) for the young, rave-party crowd. Which means, essentially, that it uses a fashionable, prismatic structure: one story shown several times over, but with the focus and point-of-view shifting from one central player to the next.

The film begins – as many teen-oriented films have done since Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982) – with the banalities of everyday, working life. Ronna (Sarah Polley), Claire (Katie Holmes) and Simon (Desmond Askew) reach the end of another boring shift at the supermarket. A night of partying and recreational drug-taking beckons for these and other characters cruising the streets and highways, destined to intersect in various unforeseen ways.

The tricky back-and-forth structure of the plot sometimes threatens to become too clever for its own good – not to mention repetitive, redundant and a bit tedious. But Liman and screenwriter John August produce enough surprises, twists and revelation to maintain the generally frenzied momentum – especially in the riotous scenes involving television hunks Zack (Jay Mohr) and Adam (Scott Wolf).

Go is one of those rare, mainstream films which tweaks its formula by weaving in elaborate references to odd topics rarely or never covered before in movies. A scene based on home-marketing and its eager, suburban devotees is a scream; as is a running discourse on the methods of Tantric sex, which receives a splendid, burlesque pay-off.

Liman’s direction has improved roughly five thousand per cent since his abysmal debut, Swingers (1996). He is served here by a wonderful ensemble cast who embody the whining sulkiness, eager sarcasm and bruised glamour of modern youth. Polley (The Sweet Hereafter [1997], My Life WIthout Me [2003]) is particularly impressive as an instant drug dealer who must pay a high price for her transgressions.

One of the best effects of Pulp Fiction‘s elaborate, non-linear structure was the seeming resurrection of lovable characters whom we had previously seen die. Liman’s film is based on a similar strain of magic realism: although many scenes involve risk, dread and mortality, somehow the movie keeps bumping us back to the nocturnal ecstasy of a carefree cruise.

Go is a heady fantasy about teenage indestructibility – a pipe-dream, of course, but an intensely pleasurable one.

MORE Liman: Mr and Mrs Smith

MORE prismatic narratives: Living in Oblivion, The Usual Suspects

© Adrian Martin August 1999

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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