A review requested by Tristan Frayling, with thanks for supporting Alternate Ending as a donor through Patreon.

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Like many a film, Go feels like it could only possibly have ever been made in the 1990s (it came out in 1999, and feels very like a summation of the decade preceding it). But unlike most of the films for which I'd make that claim, this is entirely to Go's benefit. Writer John August and director Doug Liman (both of them given an enormous career boost from this film, and both enjoying considerably success in the years following; though August, hitching his wagon to Tim Burton's star, hasn't yet matched Go as far as quality goes) had the good sense or good luck to fill their time capsule up only with very good things, things that would date the film but leave it with the spiky energy of the era's youth culture. The resulting film isn't without flaws, some of them major (its three-part structure falters on a fairly uninteresting middle third), but it's not at all hard to see why the film was greeted with substantial critical enthusiasm back in '99, even when it was in large part just another goddamn Pulp Fiction clone, one of dozens to have come out in the preceding five years.

And I do hate to say, but for all its individual charms, there's no doubt that the trifurcated, non-linear, L.A.-set, drug-oriented Go is a member in good standing of the Ripped Off Pulp Fiction Club. The story begins with Ronna Martin (Sarah Polley), on the verge of eviction, working herself into a state of dead-eyed misery at her shitty job in a crappy grocery store, and to try to desperately scrounge up every additional penny before he landlord pitches her out, she agrees to take an extra shift from her shitty coworker Simon Baines (Desmond Askew). And this kicks off a comic crime thriller of errors: Simon is an ecstasy dealer, and two men, Adam (Scott Wolf) and Zack (Jay Mohr), have come along to buy a healthy night's supply. Sensing an opportunity for some extra cash, Ronna takes on the job of arranging the drug deal, heading off to Simon's dealer, Todd Gaines (Timothy Olyphant) for a rather acrimonious negotiation. When she returns to Adam and Zack, they're in the company of a third man, Burke (William Fichtner), who perturbs her enough that she runs into the bathroom to flush the drugs down the toilet.

And that appears to be the decision around which the whole of Go revolves. Certainly, it is the moment of primary importance in Ronna's plot, though as it turns out, Ronna is only one-third of a protagonist. In fact - and here comes Pulp Fiction a-knocking - Go tells three stories, more or less overlapping: they are all intimately concerned with the causes and effects of this drug deal gone wrong. They're told in order in and of themselves, but the order of the entire movie is a bit mixed up (the earliest scene is the start of the second part, the third part begins before the second and ends after it), and from three different perspective's: Ronna's, then Simon's, then Adam's and Zack's. So as we get the material three different times, our sense of what the important crisis points are shifts and changes: maybe it's actually Simon's decision to go to Vegas, or maybe it's when Ronna asks her coworker Claire (Katie Holmes) to stay with Todd when she goes to execute the deal, maybe it happened when Burke first approached Adam and Zack, before the movie even starts.

This kind of narrative experimentation isn't terribly unique, particularly in this era of all eras, but there aren't many films that execute it with as much success as Go. Not only does the story avoid getting too big for its britches (it is, ultimately, concerned only with this one single drug deal, and not with epic stories of life, the universe, and everything), so that it never feels like it's overreaching; it's a simple, fun exercise, snugly-structured, and given more gravitas than it feels like it possibly need thanks to Polley's incredibly great performance as a somewhat generic "hostile, broke Gen X-er" type. Her performance is both a good thing and a bad thing for the film: good because it gives us a solid half hour of a character so bracing, so unusually well-defined for the kind of this is, that the movie immediately feels more consequential and "real" than almost every other wannabe-Tarantino picture of the '90s. And worse because the minute that the action rewinds and shifts away from Ronna, it's kind of impossible not to wonder why it would sacrifice this amazing treasure (August's script began life as a short film, including nothing but the Ronna plotline; so it could also be that the writing here was more refined to begin with).

The film also benefits from Liman's direction, which picks up some of the impulses in the script and runs with them to make something, not different than August's script, I don't think, but an especially fully-realised version of the script. Most notably, each of the three plotlines has been dealt with using a distinctly different tone, enough that we could almost call them different genres; or at least, different subgenres of comedy. Ronna's story is sarcastic, biting, dark, and the one that comes closest to being an actual crime thriller. Simon's third is glossy and wild, high on the spectacle of Las Vegas (it's clear from this third why Swingers is the film that recommended Liman for the job), and frantic. Adam and Zack's third goes fully wacky and weird, particularly once the drug deal is over and they end up at the home of Burke and his wife Irene (Jane Krakowski) for Christmas Eve dinner.

The differentiation between the three segments, and the heightening of the tone across the course of the movie, are the best thing Liman does, but the film's style is pretty great as well. Given the centrality of a rave to the film's plot, it makes sense that Liman would devote himself to capturing the energy of such a space - Stephen Mirrione's editing is particularly strong in this scene, as well - and the feeling of color and light as the primary motive forces of the setting makes it rather more memorable than most '90s movie raves. Even better is the film's restrained by highly focused use of Christmas decor, forming a kind of third leg of bright shiny excess next to the rave and the Vegas streets.

The Ronna third is excellent, the Adam/Zack third is a lot of fun, the structure is clever without being too smart, and while nobody is as good as Polley, there's no weak link in the cast (and Olyphant has at least one great scene - his first with Polley, no coincidence there). So with all that in its favor, why only a 3.5/5? Simple enough - the Simon plotline is just not very good at all. There have been plenty of much better films about the tacky grandeur of Las Vegas, and ones that avoid the flat, laddish tone of the comedy here. Add in the relatively thin connection to the other two storylines, and it's hard to shake the feeling that Go would have been better off without this whole arc. It's not terrible, but it's not nearly as good as the rest of the film, and one-third of the running time is a lot to spend on "not nearly as good". When Go is running at full power, it's the equal to any other pseudo-Pulp Fiction out there though, and there's a hell of a lot to love here.