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Go (1999)

June 14th, 2008 · 9 Comments

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Ronna (Sarah Polley) spends Christmas Eve finishing her grocery store shift. On the verge of being evicted, she agrees to cover for co-worker Simon (Desmond Askew), a Brit who begs off work to join his buddies on a road trip to Las Vegas. Working with her pals Claire (Katie Holmes) and Mannie (Nathan Bexton), Ronna encounters two customers, Zack and Adam (Jay Mohr and Scott Wolf) looking to score some ecstasy for a holiday rave they’re headed to. Going against the advice of her pals, Ronna seeks out Simon’s dealer, the menacing Todd Gaines (Timothy Olyphant).

Ronna convinces Todd to supply her by leaving Claire with him as collateral. Meeting her customers, Ronna is introduced to a stranger named Burke (William Fichtner). Spooked, she flushes the tablets down the toilet, but comes up with an ill-advised scam to repay Todd and rescue Claire. Meanwhile, Simon wakes up in a trunk as his friends make their way to Vegas. Tiny (Breckin Meyer) and Singh (James Duval) get sick eating buffet shrimp, but Simon’s sophisticated buddy Marcus (Taye Diggs) takes him to a strip club. The Brit forgets his etiquette and ends up on the bad side of the club’s owner (J.E. Freeman).

Moving back to L.A. and back in time, Zack and Adam are revealed to be TV actors busted for possession and forced to work with Burke – a narc – to entrap their dealer. Simon is out of town and Ronna slips away, but Burke agrees to sign the boys’ release if they agree to join him and his wife Irene (Jane Krakowski) for dinner. Irene comes on to Adam and the narc parades around naked in front of Zack before offering the boys an unusual proposition. The paths of all these characters intersect at the rave.


Production history
Even before he came to Los Angeles to attend grad school at USC, John August toyed with the idea of staging a modern day version of Alice In Wonderland around a rave. The White Rabbit would be substituted with a white Volkswagen, etcetera. “Fortunately, I never wrote that script, because it would have been horrible, clever for the sake of being clever.” The first script August finished was a “romantic tragedy” set in his native Colorado. The screenwriter didn’t care for that script either, but it was good enough to land him an agent out of USC.

August still had Alice In Wonderland on his mind in 1994 when a friend with directing aspirations asked August to write a short for him. Titled X, August’s script followed a supermarket clerk and her efforts to score an ecstasy deal on Christmas Eve. Nothing ever came of the script, but August’s friends liked it enough to ask him about the other characters and what their story was. After being commissioned to adapt the children’s books How To Eat Fried Worms and A Wrinkle In Time, August expanded X into a feature length screenplay titled Go.

Every major studio August’s agent submitted the script to found the subject matter too dark and passed on it. A company called Banner Entertainment was interested. They couldn’t offer August much money, but guaranteed he would be the only writer on the film, could buy his script back in eighteen months if it hadn’t gone into production, and would be brought on as co-producer. To direct, August helped land Doug Liman, “flavor of the month in Hollywood” after an ultra-low budget comedy he directed called Swingers made stars out of Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn in 1996.


Foreign financing fell apart weeks before filming on Go was set to begin, but with Doug Liman on board and Christina Ricci and Katie Holmes interested, Paramount, Miramax, DreamWorks and Polygram all bid to distribute the film. TriStar won out and with $6.5 million in financing, shooting commenced in L.A. in March 1998. Liman served as his own director of photography and shot so fast – with August picking up second unit to save even more time – Go was in theaters in twelve months. Critics generally loved it. Audiences mostly ignored it, buying up $16.9 million of tickets in the U.S.

Few titles have the finesse to sum up a movie as brilliantly as Go, a drug fueled rollercoaster ride that alternates between dark comedy and light suspense with terrific verve. The film’s appeal lies in its modest scale and the fact that it was made mostly by starving artist types. A down and dirty B-picture subsidized by Sony, nearly everyone involved in the production was a relative unknown or comer. With no pressure to supply an entertainment to the masses, the writer, director and most of the actors deliver the best work of their careers.

While most episodic movies feature one segment that towers over and renders the others superfluous, all three episodes of Go are invested with the visceral quirks to stand on their own. My favorite bit involves a character so baked on ecstasy he holds a telepathic conversation with a housecat. Timothy Olyphant steals the film as the brooding dirt merchant softened somewhat by the allure of Katie Holmes, who gives her best screen performance to date here. Brian Transeau – alias “BT” – and Moby contributed the film’s butt-kicking house music.


Brian Webster at Apollo Movie Guide writes, “Released at a time when there’s no shortage of poorly-written teen movies, Go comes on the scene like a breath of fresh air, or at least an invigorating puff of pot smoke. Rather than following spoiled brat rich kids through yet another reworking of a classic story, we get screwed-up regular folks and an original tale of bad judgement, questionable morality and repeated near-disaster.”

Go definitely has great style and good acting, but the story left me a little flat. Liman tries to make this film edgy, by loading it with drugs and raves and sex and fast cars, but it’s all flash and no substance. This film just made me glad I didn’t know anyone like these people,” writes Lisa Skryniarz at Crazy For Cinema.

Christopher Null at writes, “Go is a seamier look at life than Swingers, brilliantly deconstructing Gen X life in latter-day Los Angeles, giving a new perspective on rave culture, drug dealers, the lure of Vegas, and even Amway distributorship. Through the lead characters of Ronna (Polley), Claire (Holmes), and Simon (Askew), you’ll never look at grocery store clerks the same way.”

© Joe Valdez

Tags: 24 hour time frame · Black comedy · Dreams and visions · Gangsters and hoodlums

9 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Moviezzz // Jun 15, 2008 at 11:30 am

    I saw this theatrically, loved it, remember even arguing that it was in some ways a better film than PULP FICTION, and I own the DVD, yet other than watching the “Steal My Sunshine” video on the DVD many times, haven’t seen the film since it was in theatres.

    I don’t know if I still would say it is better than PULP.

  • 2 sir jorge // Jun 16, 2008 at 12:07 pm

    i liked this movie and while Pulp Fiction was really hard, this movie wasn’t as hard, and actually fit better to a lot of people, than Pulp did. I found it to be on similar playing field, but not as good.

  • 3 Hedwig // Jun 17, 2008 at 12:07 am

    I kind of love this film, and I’m always surprised to find someone else who’s even heard of it. I like how real the characters manage to stay within the crazy story, and Timothy Olyphant is amazing, scary and sexy and magnetic.

  • 4 Fletch // Jun 17, 2008 at 11:21 am

    Glad to see Go getting the “Globe” treatment. It’s one of my favorite films, and it’s terribly rewatchable. Anyone who hasn’t seen it should do so immediately – it’s so well made and acted, I just can’t overstate how good it is.

    Excellent point about the three segments. At gunpoint, I probably pick the Vegas one as my favorite, but it’s hard to ignore the classic scenes that the others provided. Though this didn’t impact culture like Swingers did, it’s a far better film (don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy that greatly).

    I’d stop at placing it above Pulp Fiction, though. They’re certainly similar and it warrants comparison, but it’s a shade lighter.

    I own the soundtrack as well. Not perfect, but some great tracks there.

  • 5 Daniel // Jun 17, 2008 at 12:54 pm

    Interesting choice. I also believe I saw it theatrically, but for whatever reason it didn’t stick with me. Some of those names, as you would guess, surprised me when mentioned here. You’re right, at the time they were mostly unknowns.

    Anyway, now 10 years later, I’m sure I would have a different experience in watching it.

  • 6 Joe Valdez // Jun 17, 2008 at 2:01 pm

    Moviezzz: Pulp Fiction is definitely the better film, but your comment suggests that maybe it had been praised and discussed and analyzed too much. I saw it in a theater four times. Moviegoers like us needed something new and exciting and Go definitely fit the bill. It helps that the movie wasn’t a box office hit and not too many lay people know about it.

    Jorge: Thanks for commenting. I don’t think the filmmakers set out to make a kinder, gentler version of Pulp Fiction. That would be Guy Ritchie. For starters, Go is a lot less stylized and more in touch with what the kids who work the Hollywood Von’s do after hours.

    Hedwig: I don’t know if he does this anymore, but for a time, Timothy Olyphant was phoning in the sports report for L.A. alternative station Indie 103.1. He’s definitely got the charisma for stronger roles and I’m disappointed he hasn’t gotten many. Thanks for commenting and congratulations! I see that the Dutch killed the Romanians in Euro Cup today.

    Fletch: No argument, the middle segment was the best. From before those guys even get to Vegas to the time they’re flee home, you know they’re headed for some serious trouble. I don’t know what ever became of Desmond Askew, but he definitely played the part of a derelict bastard well. As always, I welcome your comments here at the Globe.

    Daniel: I’d be curious to hear if this still holds up for you. I never lived the nightlife depicted in Go so was not personally invested in it. Maybe this is why the movie still held up for me. Also, instead of simply using crime to advance the plot, it’s full of these odd, canted moments, terrific dialogue and energy.

  • 7 Ed Howard // Jul 1, 2008 at 9:27 pm

    Yea I’ve seen this a few times but it’s been a while now. It’s a ton of fun though, that’s for sure. It probably helped, at the time it first came out, that I had found Swingers a total disaster, just unbearable. So I wasn’t going into this with terribly high expectations. I think the Pulp Fiction comparisons are pretty off-base. Tarantino’s film is far richer, obviously, but then again Go doesn’t really aspire to the same thing at all, so I can’t really fault it. It’s just an adrenaline- and drug-fueled party movie from start to finish. Nothing wrong with that. And I never would’ve thought I’d actually like Katie Holmes in anything, but she’s pretty good here. My favorite scene, though, is still the Amway party that seems to be constantly threatening to turn into an orgy. William Fichtner is a great and very funny character actor here, it’s a shame he doesn’t get many other interesting parts.

  • 8 milo // Jul 15, 2008 at 4:08 pm

    Great movie, I don’t think it’s really fair to fault it for not being quite as good as the brilliant Pulp Fiction. I saw this in a nearly empty theatre and have the DVD.

    What I love about it is the sense of sheer desperation. So many movies get the characters into precarious situations by having them do things that are stupid and out of character. In Go Rona gets into worse and worse situations because she is backed into a corner and can’t think of any alternative.

    The “amway” reveal is hilarious, as is the fantasy sequence in the grocery store and the “talking” to the cat.

    The cast is great as well, with some people who were awesome that I’ve never seen since. Oliphant and Sarah Polley are particularly great, this movie got me hooked on her. She hasn’t acted that much since then but she looks to have a promising writing and directing career.

  • 9 DL Byron // Oct 27, 2008 at 6:35 pm

    Thanks for the blog post. This is one if those movies that I’ve seen only segments of while traveling, in hotels, late at night. I just saw the rave scene and Googled Timothy Olyphant + Ectasy dealer and clicked to your blog. The movie is even trippier, when you only see pieces of it at a time out of order.

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