In the stylistic mode of Steve Buscemi’s “Trees Lounge” or Kevin Smith’s “Clerks,” here from the directorial team of The Ross Brothers is “Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets,” about the trials of several bar-flies.
The film is an unsparingly hard look at life from the perspective of a bar stool. While clearly not for every eye (there is a lot of shouting) the story is authentic. This is not a true documentary but a dramatically improvised one, set in Vegas, using genuine bar regulars with the actual bar located in New Orleans.
Most effective is the cinematic idea of a bar submerged. The bar itself seems to twist and tilt as if it is in outer space or deep underwater, a submarine.
Things are odd from the get go. Michael, a former actor, lives in the back room, wrinkled and surly. Then there is Lowell, a long-haired man who appears to float through the door. Mark, the bartender, gathers everyone together for one final round. Tonight, the bar is closing its doors. Ira, an old grizzled man who sounds like Tom Waits, is angry and pickled and just wants to drink. After an hour, he is coaxed out.
Though at first the characters are quirky, drama ensues when it appears everyone has stayed too long at the fair. Bruce, a war veteran, dances like Michael Jackson, clearly in a world of his own. Later we learn that the bar is the only thing that gives him a feeling of community.
Slowly but surely this insular film starts to compel. The bar inhabitants watch classic movies and game shows as if they are the last survivors of some nameless apocalypse. There are mentions of gigantic collisions on the highway: a CarNado.
In watching the scenes of loud talking, laughter, closeness and hugging, one is eerily reminded of the days before the coronavirus when people felt free to slap each other on the arm, to sit together, to slobber and shout without a care.
With a musical cue from a gangster film, the sweet turns sinister. David, a young Romeo, feels slighted, left out and is spoiling for a fist fight while Michael, the bar’s mascot, turns nasty and leaves with a snarl, after waking up from an inebriated nap.
The audience’s point of view is embodied in the veteran Bruce who simply leaves the bar and says “Thank you, I love you,” wiping his tears.
This is a singular film that may well irritate some in its unflinching portraiture of the aimless and embittered. “Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets” is very much a Charles Bukowski story come to life—an acquired taste.
This film is part of the Tropic’s Virtual Cinematheque Series. Get tickets here and support the Tropic!
Write Ian at firstname.lastname@example.org