Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Movie Review: Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets

Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets **** ½ / *****
Directed by: Bill Ross IV and Turner Ross.
Featuring: Peter Elwell, Michael Martin, Shay Walker

The final day of a Las Vegas dive bar stands in for the end of the world in the Ross Brothers extraordinary film Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets. Some have taken issue with the brothers for calling the film a documentary, despite the fact that the bar was constructed in New Orleans, the patrons and the bartenders were cast, and brought together for a few days of shooting, and then it was intercut with scenes of the seedy, rundown part of Vegas – not the strip that the tourists see, but the part where real people live. But the Ross Brothers aren’t trying to fool anyone – they’ve been upfront about their method to get what they want. Even if you don’t consider the film a documentary – it’s more true than just about any film you will see this year.
The bar is the Roaring Twenties, and it’s a neighborhood dive bar – made up basically to resemble someone’s rec room. It’s the last day it will be open, everyone knows it, but it isnt discussed in detail. It seems like everyone just wants to avoid the inevitable – to treat today like any other day, even if tomorrow, everything will be different. The Ross’ shot the film almost immediately after the election of Donald Trump – and it’s a good portrait of Trump’s America, even if he never once comes up in the film.
The closest thing the film has to a protagonist is Michael (Michael Martin). He was once an actor, but has given that up. Now, he comes to the Roaring Twenties all day and drinks. We see him first walking towards the bar, and he shaves in the bar’s bathroom – he is essentially homeless. Around 60, with a mop of white hair, he says he takes comfort in the fact that his alcoholism didn’t make him a failure – the failure came first, then the alcoholism – as if it makes much of a difference.
Michael is one of the few people who stays in the bar from the day shift into the night shift. From the time during the day when the regulars are laughing and watching Jeopardy – the burly bartender with a long beard cracks jokes, plays his guitar and swaps stories – to the night shift, where a female bartender takes over, and everyone gets louder, and drunker. They’re all here to say goodbye – but to a chis fertain extent, Michael is the only one who doesn’t know what comes next. Everyone else has homes to go to, family – they may not like them, but they’re there. But what is Michael going to do?
But he’s hardly the only “character” in the film – they are all. Some of them are performers, like Michael, some may just be real barflies shipped in. Regardless, the alcohol they are drinking in real – and the pain and regret certainly feels that way as well. The Ross brothers get what they can – they filmed for three days, and then cobbled together this film, and yet it all feel organic, all feels real. Even when someone says something that sounds like a written line – like Mike’s “There’s nothing duller than a guy in a bar who used to do things, and now doesn’t do those things because he’s a guy in a bar”, it still sounds real – like something Michael really would say in that moment. All the barflies are natural storytellers anyway – and they repeat stories, and lines. They are all the wisest one in the room, all know the real story, the truth – and they need to make sure that everyone they talk to knows that as well.
Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets really is about forgotten America – politicians like to talk about fighting for that group of forgotten Americans, but no one is fighting for these people. They spend their days and nights here – until they are pushed out. Vegas doesn’t have room for them anymore – it’s gone corporate, and even if that happened long ago, they have someone hung on this long. They’re just sad they cannot hang on a little longer.
Perhaps all of this makes Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets sound depressing – but it really isnt. It is when you think about it a little – when you reflect on what you’ve seen. But as the film is going on, you are enthralled – enraptured with these people, their stories, their lives. Even if you never went to dive bars in the first place – this film will make you miss them.

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