For a long time this movie occupied the “see this if there’s nothing else” position in my movie list, but eventually there was nothing else and I did see it. I am certainly glad that I did, because it’s a pisser.
Yes, the three-part structure is swiped from Pulp Fiction, but the structure was the best thing about Pulp Fiction, so why not steal it? In any case, what Liman does with that structure is very different. Tarantino made a movie-nerd’s Ultimate Movie, whereas Liman is working on a somewhat more human scale, but with the speed cranked up to maximum. It’s got drug deals, dancing, loud music, violence, threats of violence, tantric sex, unbelievably stupid decisions, deceptive appearances, moderately good decisions, Las Vegas, a talking cat, Amway, Chiang Kai-Shek and a terrific car chase. And the main engine of the narrative is the desperate need to raise $380 so as to avoid eviction.
The story circles around (“careens around” might be more accurate) three times to the same simple scene where one checkout clerk convinces another to cover his shift so he can to go Las Vegas, and the whole thing moves so fast that by the end both the audience and the people on the screen have completely forgotten about one major character, so then the other characters have to go find him.
The cast is excellent, but special mention must to go Sarah Polley. This is very different from the role she played in The Sweet Hereafter, but she’s just as good here. What the two roles have in common is that she always conveys that the character she’s playing is thinking a lot more than she is letting on to the other characters, but usually she doesn’t telegraph what the character is thinking. It’s like seeing Kevin Spacey reincarnated as a teenage girl who’s just trying to pay the rent.
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Later comments: It was interesting to read, in the article I linked to last time, how many of the small details in that scene were in the script. That pleases me, because the movie in general is full of great touches. For example, Simon, the English guy who switches shifts so he can go to Vegas, slides from his English accent into an Irish accent when he’s flirting with the girls he meets there. Some people don’t even notice that, but it’s always struck me funny.