Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets
Controversy in the documentary field definitely has its place; with it most often coming with people questioning the film’s journalistic integrity and honesty. And, in many ways, that form of controversy came with documentarians Bill and Turner Ross as they premiered their new film, Blood Nose, Empty Pockets, at Sundance this past January. The film presents itself as a chronicle of the very last night of a Las Vegas dive bar before it closes, following its patrons as they get hammered from open to close, celebrating the final hours of their favorite watering hole. The thing is, the film was actually shot at a bar in New Orleans, and all the “regulars” are locals that the Ross brothers cast — decisions that have irked some purists, who insist the film shouldn’t be labeled explicitly as orchestrated nonfiction (especially when it was in the documentary field at Sundance).
At the same time, almost all documentarians bend the truth they purport to capture, in ways both big and small; from manipulating subjects to scripting conversations. Set aside the manufactured circumstances of the shoot, and Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets achieves a vérité verisimilitude that’s very much in the Frederick Wiseman tradition; the drunker these genuine barflies get, the more they reveal themselves, even within an “artificial” setup. It’s funny and sad and also much more “real” than plenty of documentaries that play by the rules — in many ways it’s the perfect encapsulation of legendary documentarian Werner Herzog’s filmmaking principle of “ecstatic truth,” the kind that can only be unearthed when you’re willing to look past the raw facts. Capturing the laid-back, good times with the poignant ones, Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets‘ fly-on-the-wall observations deliver as a sober-eyed document of authenticity and amusement.
Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets will be available in Virtual Cinemas on July 10th
From the get go, the casting of The Outpost, a war film set in Afghanistan in 2009, has a novelty appeal. Two members of its ensemble, Scott Eastwood and Milo Gibson, are sons of famous actor-directors (Clint and Mel) who assuredly have made their own collection of war films. Another piece of the ensemble, Will Attenborough, is the grandson of Richard, a star of the WWII drama The Great Escape. And actor James Jagger’s father, Mick, while more a stage than screen figure, sometimes still performs while riding a tank. In a lesser film such family ties and resemblances could be a distraction, but in this well-crafted, fact-based tragedy, they provide added value. When Eastwood’s character, the real-life Staff Sgt. Clint Romesha, is briefed on rules of engagement, he says of the general who ordered them, “Someone tell McChrystal that we’re not selling Popsicles out here, sir.” His line reading redefining the phrase “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”
Adapted from the nonfiction of the same title by Jake Tapper that tells the story of the Battle of Kamdesh and directed by Rod Lurie, The Outpost evolves from what initially feels like a collection of war-movie commonplaces, highlighting crude-talking soldiers in a bad situation, into something more complex and illuminating. The men of the titular outpost are assigned to work with the local population. But they are sitting ducks both existentially and geographically, as their station is in a valley surrounded by mountains, just waiting to be overrun by Taliban fighters. The movie as a whole unfolds its narrative with numerous unusual techniques; one of which is giving distinct sequences to each of the forever changing leaders of the outpost. And to go along with that, the film’s ensemble turns in stronger performances than expected with most films of this nature, with two of the non-celeb sons, Orlando Bloom as a determined commander and Caleb Landry Jones as a wound-up specialist, delivering near-career-best performances.
In particularly Jones shines in the film’s second half, which consists almost entirely of the two-day attack on the titular outpost on October 2009, which ended up being one of the most brutal modern assaults of the neverending war that also saw the outpost finally be closed. Lurie’s directorial approach seemingly adopts a Ridley Scott-like style in which bullets and shouted orders dominate the filmmaking, but he never gets lost in the action, as so many modern directors tend to. He manages to convey the insanity without resorting to cheap filmmaking tricks or manipulative storytelling. The Outpost isn’t the first film to document how human errors led to the loss of life — the Battle of Kamdesh resulted in multiple disciplinary actions against people who failed to support the base in the first place — and it certainly won’t be the last. Sadly, acts of heroism often emerge from acts of failure on a structural level. What elevates Lurie’s film is the balance, never allowing his film to turn into blind jingoism, or a castigation of a broken system that sacrifices young men. He keeps his eye where it belongs, on the real people caught in the middle of it all, stuck in the valley of war. With a lingering haunting feeling, The Outpost definitely has its familiarities but shines in its grounded ugliness, visceral intensity, and strong ensemble as a tragedy of errors.
The Outpost is available on VOD