Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets (4 stars)

Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets

This drama-documentary takes some liberties with the truth but remains moving and entertaining

The first thing to say about Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets is that it is not what it seems. This drama-documentary hybrid from siblings Bill and Turner Ross purports to capture the final day of Las Vegas dive bar The Roaring 20s and the reaction of its rogues' gallery of regulars, who cling to it for comfort and are about to find themselves displaced. It might look like fly-on-the-wall filmmaking, but the bar in question is not closing, it ain't in Vegas and the punters were drawn from a variety of New Orleans drinking establishments. It is, however, unscripted, performed predominantly by non-professionals and everyone really is that drunk.

Despite the duplicity, what the Ross brothers have produced here is strangely beguiling, full of inebriated wisdom and emotional outpourings, and the characters, well, the characters are great. The only actor of the group, Michael Martin, plays a pretty down-on-his-luck version of himself. 'I pride myself on not having become an alcoholic until after I was already a failure. I ruined my life sober and then I came to you,' he tells bartender Marc Paradis.

Woozily shot over two 18-hour days, before being subjected to a three-year editing process, what the Ross brothers have come up with is often gold but it's rarely pretty. A mysterious brown bag is placed with no questions asked under the counter, someone takes their trousers off, a man pep talks himself at a urinal, there's a shouted, panicky request for some loo roll, and a 60-year-old woman flashes her boobs several times. There's also terrible advice on crossing the street ('Whether you're right or wrong, stay in motion,') and if there are less fights than you might expect, things do get testy.

There will be plenty of real, sad stories relating to the demise of beloved watering holes, especially now, so it's hard not to feel a little cheated by the artifice. But Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets (wonderful title by the way) does an excellent job at capturing how a drinking haunt can both hasten someone's downfall and feel like the only thing that's holding them up. And there's real pain, not least in the eyes of Bruce Hadnot, a Black army vet who wears a permanently traumatised expression. Bruce offers his own Cheers-evoking take on the appeal of such venues. 'It's a place you can go when no-one else don't want your ass,' he muses. Try putting that into a song.

Available to watch on Curzon Home Cinema from Thu 24 Dec, and in cinemas from Fri 1 Jan.

Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets

  • 4 stars
  • 2020
  • US
  • 1h 38min
  • Directed by: Bill Ross IV, Turner Ross
  • Cast: Peter Elwell, Michael Martin, Shay Walker