“There is nothing more boring than a guy who used to do stuff who doesn’t do stuff no more because he’s in a bar”, says one old drunk, talking to the bottom of an empty glass. He’s right, of course, but he’s also very wrong – and Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets proves it by making a mini-masterpiece entirely out of barfly talk. The cinematic equivalent of a Pogues song, it’s a film that rings last orders on an entire generation without ever feeling like it’s wallowing in sadness: a film about the financial crisis of 2016 that dances on the soggy tables of 2020 wearing a party hat.
If you’re missing the pub, Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets will either make you feel much better or much worse. Filmed by indie director brothers Turner and Bill Ross, the film is made to look like a documentary about the last few hours of a Las Vegas dive bar, but it was actually shot on a fake set in Louisiana using real people, real drinks and real acid tabs – staged but never scripted.
Running from 9am to 5am, the Ross brothers watch the regulars drift in and out of The Roaring 20s for one last lock-in before it shuts its doors forever – a stand in for pubs and bars all over the world that have been closing up over the last few years. It might be set in Las Vegas (“I don’t even care about this town anymore. It’s losing its character. Fucking Celine Dion can have it,” growls the owner), but it might as well be London, Leicester or Lancaster: just another favourite old watering hole turned into a Tesco Express.
You’ve seen the cast before (standing outside Spoons every Monday morning): there’s the sofa-surfing actor, the angry war vet, the haggard mum with a teen kid in the alley outside, the ex-hippy still tripping on whatever he finds in his pockets, the guy in the suit who never seems to get drunk, the house grannie who likes to flash her boobs at everyone and the bartender with a guitar who looks like he’s going to be completely lost when he has to lock up for the last time.
There’s a lot of whiskey-soaked wisdom to be found at 3am, and the crowd in the Roaring 20s cover everything from Trump, climate change, generational blame games and good parenting. There’s teary confessions, sleazy pick-up lines, mournful remembrances and a lot of singing, dancing, fighting and kissing. Straddling the line between bleary-eyed cod philosophy and something that Eugene O’Neill might have written, Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets has just as much depth and soul as any big Friday night at the pub – celebrating all of grown-up, washed-up, broken-up life: big, small, irrelevant, sacred and smelling slightly of wee.
“We want people to find this film in whatever way they want, but I love the image of someone watching this under Christmas lights with a tall drink,” Bill Turner told The Guardian, happy that his film is coming to Curzon Home Cinema on Christmas Eve. “Benh Zeitlin [director of 2012’s Beasts Of The Southern Wild] sent it to one of his guys, and he doesn’t smoke anymore, but he bought a pack of cigarettes and a case of cheap beer at the corner store, and he and his girlfriend got fucked up while chain-smoking during the whole thing. He said he thought he was blacked out by the end of it. That’s one way to do it!”
The cruellest joke of 2020 is that we can’t watch it end from inside a pub – so you might as well watch Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets with a drink or 10 and enjoy the next best thing.
- Director: Bill Ross and Turner Ross
- Starring: Peter Elwell, Michael Martin, Shay Walker
- Release date: December 24 (Curzon Home Video)