Director: Benny Safdie, Josh Safdie | Runtime: 1hr 41mins | Crime, Drama
When a small time bank heist goes wrong, Connie Nikas (Robert Pattinson) lands his developmentally disabled brother Nick (Benny Safdie) in jail, taking himself on a overnight foray in a attempt to free them from the grips of the law.
With the recent release of Uncut Gems (2020) and the praise the Safdie Brothers gained not only for their direction and writing, but how they brought the best out in Adam Sandler, we’re taking a look at their feature before as it made a career best performance of out it’s star too – another with a infamous reputation in the public eye.
Robert Pattinson has spent the past decade creating some truly unique and wonderful projects after his mainstream success with the Twilight saga (2008-2012), proving he is one of the most talented working actors, one of the highlights being Good Time. Starring across from one of the Safdie brothers, Pattinson broke free from the assumption that he was just a pretty face, falling into the grimy role of Connie as he makes terrible decision one after another, attempting to stop his life from collapsing around him.
Though most of the runtime is spent with Connie, he isn’t a character we want to succeed. At his core he may be trying to make the right decision but exercises this in completely the wrong way, and makes many questionable choices juxtaposed against his brother as Nick tries to make it through the night in jail. He acts as an anchor for us, a sympathetic and relatable figure in a dark and horrible look at petty crime in New York.
Connie takes time to involve his brother in all of his small time heists, the one we see shortly after the start ends with dye packs ruining a portion of the money, covering them in the process, making it obvious they handled stolen money as well. During a pursuit with the police, Nick accidentally runs through a glass door, badly injuring himself in the process making it easy for them to arrest him.
We don’t root against him, a tight rope balanced extremely well through the writing and direction, all emphasised excellently with the 35mm film it’s shot on, giving a more gritty and grounded feeling.
The rest of the film only spans one evening, but much like they’re later work the Safdie’s create a engaging narrative full of suspense and originality, seeping with gorgeous nighttime setting lit up with neon shades, the journey taking them into late night theme parks, bottles filled with LSD and questionable romantic engagements, all through Connie’s manipulations trying to achieve the outcome he thinks is best. The trail he leads is immoral, ugly and violent. It’s not justified, but we don’t root against him, a tight rope balanced extremely well through the writing and direction, all emphasised excellently with the 35mm film it’s shot on, giving a more gritty and grounded feeling, bringing us into their world even further. The soundtrack created by artist Oneohtrix Point Never weaves an incredible tone and feeling throughout, one that’s atmospheric and pulsating to the point that even the absence of music feels like the soundtrack is still there, blending all the ambience with his unique musical style, Safdie’s choice excelling in the only credit he has for a feature soundtrack.
It almost feels like a bit of throwback to character studies from the 70’s and 80’s, though it doesn’t connect much to Taxi Driver (1976) and alike, but it resonants a dark, gritty look at a mostly irredeemable protagonist in a way many films don’t seem to achieve anymore. The closest is potentially You Were Never Really Here (2017) – a superb film in its own right – but even that has a lead we’re expected to sympathise with, unlike what the Safdie’s have created with a unlikable character we struggle to get on the side off, but still strap in for the ride.
The only real downfall relate to both Connie’s unsympathetic story – for some, this will be a turn off, and act as a reason to not have a emotional connection to the narrative – and the dips in pace sometimes slow it down too much, though we may think we need a breath of air it would probably have suited the narrative and the motivations of Connie to just keep ramping up the tension. These aren’t deal breakers however, a beautifully shot but brutal look at underworld crime, we’re given a fantastic 101 minutes to show off why the Safdie’s and Pattinson are some of the most underrated talents working today.