By Andrea Thompson
“Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets” is the type of film that could only come around in a moment like this, the kind where people aren’t just starting to think that having compassion for others is a good idea, but that maybe it shouldn’t have to be earned.
And there is such compassion for the lost, battered souls in “Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets,” all of whom have found a kind of home and family at The Roaring 20s, a Las Vegas dive bar where they’ve all gathered for one final night before it shuts down for good.
Brothers Bill and Turner Ross have quietly been making critically acclaimed work for years, and “Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets” will hopefully launch a new stage in their careers, one where their names will be uttered in the indie film world with the same reverence as Valerie Faris, Jonathan Dayton, Barry Jenkins, Andrea Arnold, and Sean Baker.
It’d be well-earned. “Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets” is one of those films that contains a multitude of stories, not just from the bar flies who flock to the dive bar that’s become a warm, welcoming place for them in contrast to the harsh, sepia toned Vegas outside, but how the Ross brothers found this place and got everyone inside to get so comfortable having them around that one woman flashes herself to show how well her breasts have held up. Then there’s the history of the bar itself, which is clearly long and storied.
If it seems like a diverse, slightly heightened view of life, it’s because calling “Bloody Nose” a documentary isn’t completely accurate. The Roaring 20s is indeed a real bar, but it’s in New Orleans, and it’s still open. And while the film may be unscripted, the Ross brothers basically auditioned all the bar flies, gave them the premise and various other topics, then mostly stood back and filmed the results. Some of the chosen cast have acted before, but most haven’t.
Should this information have been offered up? Most likely. But while you could debate truth until the end of time, most of us can agree on what beauty looks like, for all the talk of it being in the eye of the beholder. And there’s such beauty in the simplicity of “Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets,” whose overarching philosophy is succinctly spelled out off-screen, probably by Michael Martin, who becomes the movie’s standout and its emotional center. “I wanted the truth of every line,” he stated when discussing his approach to acting. But he quickly realized that truth was an elusive thing. So he “started going after beauty.”
If you’re of the philosophy that artists use lies to tell the truth, then there’s much to enjoy in the warmth that these people have found in each other without veering into cheap sentiment. When people lose this much in their lives, finding a place where everybody not only knows your name, but gives you the strength to go back out and face another day feels like a momentous triumph in itself.