Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets (2020)

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This quite astounding docudrama by brothers Bill and Turner Ross seems to coalesce all that is precious and precarious about the US on the brink of the 2016 election that saw Trump come to power and the lives of the powerless crumble.

Set in a Las Vegas bar on the night before it closes, the camera is a fly on the wall as we watch regulars stumble in. This is their place, where they can be sure of a warm welcome, where there is always a friend who will listen and pick them up if they fall off their stool. The bartenders are kind and world-weary, sad but knowing they will find another job.

For regulars like Michael, though, this is not only a bar but the only home he has. He drinks until dawn and then catches a few hours sleep on a couch until the last worker shakes him awake and makes him leave. For him, the closing of the bar means he is out on the street. Bruce is a war veteran who can’t understand how he has served his country but then is treated so badly. “A heap see but a few know.” Bartender Shay is trying to keep her teenage son Tra on the straight and narrow but in reality she has little hope that he will transcend the life she has.

In this ragged, flawed, group of humans, you can see every demographic of disenfranchised America. The closing of the bar is a metaphor for what they, as individuals, as a nation, are about to lose. You can smell the beer and sweat, the camera is so close. You listen in on overlapping, intimate conversations as if you are an interloper at a party.

What makes this film even more remarkable is that is all constructed. Filmed in a New Orleans bar, the players are locals and small-time actors, many playing a version of themselves. I knew this as I watched it but I kept forgetting, that’s how authentic it feels. It’s a sad and beautiful film and I know there are so many Michael’s out there:

“There’s nothing more boring than a guy who used to do stuff who doesn’t do stuff anymore because he’s in a bar.”

Have you seen this film? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

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