There’s a disappointment that quickly took hold after screening “Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets” that only manifested when I found out the film’s big secret: none of it is real. This loosely-scripted, pseudo-documentary film is beautifully directed (by Bill Ross IV and Turner Ross), but its mumblecore style is a real turn-off and the gravitas of the characters and story line crumbles under the weight of its orchestrated fiction.
It’s last call for Las Vegas dive bar Roaring 20s, a beloved hangout that provides a break from the bright lights of the city. The local watering hole will be closing its doors when the sun rises, and the regulars join together one last time for a fitting sendoff. Tonight is for drinking, soul-baring, arguing, and ranting about life to anyone who will listen. The patchwork of characters feels authentic with its rag-tag group of transients, life-long drunks, single mothers, and lonely military veterans, all misfits that seek solace and a sense of family in the shadows of the dimly lit bar. There’s an emotional honesty to many of their stories, and that’s part of what makes it such a bummer that this isn’t a real documentary.
The film blurs the line between fiction and reality and is an accurate portrayal of what a saloon can be. These barflies are struggling to survive in a world filled with loneliness, hardship, anger, and regret. It would feel sad enough if this were a real story, but dramatizing the frustrations of this group and presenting it as a documentary instead comes across as distasteful, if not borderline unethical.
It’s not a spoiler to mention that this is a fictional narrative, because I think the film retains more of its poignancy if you know beforehand. This bar isn’t in Las Vegas, and these are actors who were cast and fed a basic outline of their back story. The hard living regulars are believable, and you’ll probably recognize some of their personality traits if you’ve ever spent time in a dive bar. The directors create a wonderfully accurate glimpse into the culture of what a bar can be. As one character puts it, the Roaring 20s is “a place you can go when nobody wants your ass.”
The vintage look and feel of the cinematography and a skillful use of background music that comes and goes on the jukebox lends a wave of nostalgia, but I found it difficult to relate to many of the characters. I have a love / hate relationship with “Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets” primarily for this reason, and I likely would’ve had a much more positive reaction had I known from the get-go that this was a work of fiction.
By: Louisa Moore