The career trajectory of director Doug Liman is one familiar to many other filmmakers. After getting his starting in the world of independent film, Hollywood eventually came knocking on Liman’s door, and the man whose first film was the small-scale Swingers soon gained prevalence as an action director with The Bourne Identity, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, and the recently released Edge of Tomorrow. But some time before his action-oriented realignment with Bourne, Liman made a film by the name of Go that both serves as a bridge between the two stages of his career and arguably still stands as his best film.
Although Liman didn’t write Swingers or Go (that would be Jon Favreau and John August respectively, two writers who would also find themselves working in blockbusters eventually), both films share a penchant for witty wordplay and high energy. Liman also carried over the sense of hip attitude from Swingers into the following film, and Go shows the filmmaker fully confident in his ability to expand onto a wider canvas, one which covers the span of one wild Christmas night.
Upon its release, Go carried the reputation of being yet another Tarantino copy with its ensemble cast and branching storylines. But where other movies of that type at the time failed by trying too hard to be slick and cool, that aspect comes through much more naturally here. A large part of that comes from the talented cast, many of whom were relative up-and-comers at the time that went on to bigger things, clicking together with August’s script and their onscreen chemistry.
The story is broken up into three distinct chapters, each of which starts at the supermarket where most of the characters converge before going off on their own adventures that occasionally cross over with each other. The first story deals with Ronna and her friend Claire, played by Sarah Polley and Katie Holmes, conducting a drug deal in order to make some desperate cash, and it functions as a nice lead-in for the following events to play off of. Part of this has to do with these two playing the most relatable of all the characters, so Polley and Holmes are able to ground the audience in the increasing chaotic events.
Their section also does a great job of establishing the tonal mix of tension-filled situations and dark comedy throughout the film, especially during the escapades of Desmond Askew, Taye Diggs, and Breckin Meyer’s characters as they plow their way through every thing that could go wrong in Vegas. Liman stages the various absurdities with plenty of style and style to spare, taking his characters through psychedelic raves, car chases, and unexpected twists.
Along with actors Jay Mohr and Scott Wolf, whose plotline is both the strangest and the last leg of the overarching story, William Fichtner, Jane Krakowski, and then-newcomers Timothy Olyphant and Melissa McCarthy fill out the rest of the cast. Much of the movie’s clever fun comes from how each of these characters unknowingly affects events that happen in the parallel plot threads. Events that seemingly come out of nowhere, like the shock gag that occurs at the end of Ronna’s story, are eventually explained from another angle. The comical unpredictability of such moments keeps viewers on their toes to expect anything, before being rewarded with payoffs that interlock all the pieces.
When it all comes together, Go is more about having a good time and going along for the ride rather than anything deeper. It captures the lively spirit of embarking on that “one crazy night” and then going off into directions and situations that one wouldn’t want to be caught in but would love to watch unfold from the sidelines. Even though it has been 15 years since the release of Go, its clear in the much bigger budgeted Edge of Tomorrow that Doug Liman still has some of that madcap nature left in him. With that film underperforming in U.S. theaters, perhaps its time for the director to take a page from his Swingers writer Jon Favreau and return to the smaller-scale roots that started his career.