This tense and dirty crime drama by the Safdie brothers hooked me in with its relentless pace, fluoro grubbiness and the first frame of an unrecognisable and mesmerising Robert Pattinson.
We first see Nick Nikas (Benny Safdie) being interviewed by a well-meaning but patronising psychiatrist (Peter Verby). Nick has an intellectual disability and a problematic and sometimes violent relationship with his grandmother. His brother Connie (Pattinson) drags him from the session in outrage. When they rob a bank, things don’t go quite as planned and Connie is catapulted into a frantic race to get back on track with the future he has planned for the two of them.
It’s rare that you really don’t know where a story is going. Connie, thrown from one situation to another, is thinking on his feet to try to survive and, with him, we follow the unexpected twists and turns of his trajectory. He exploits every person he meets in his single-minded loyalty to his brother and is a consummate conman who can charm as easily as he can menace. His path would be a comedy of errors if there were any comedy to be found. Instead there is gut-churning pathos amidst the grubby neon-lit race to the end.
Pattinson is superb, charming and manic in equal measure, and Safdie, who also co-directs, is convincing as Nicky. Each character is well drawn, although most flit in and out as their usefulness to Connie waxes and wanes. Jennifer Jason Leigh is the erratic and exploited girlfriend, Corey, and Taliah Webster is a stand out as 16-year-old Crystal ,, both who get caught up in the maelstrom.
The ending is beautiful, a coda that frames the narrative to the guttural tones of Iggy Pop and makes us realise who this film is really about.
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