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A Film Diary

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Watched: 20 November

A great, wild ride of a New York movie by the Safdie brothers, one that channels the scuzz of Scorsese’s sleazy, lowlife-ridden streets in the 1970s and also the on-the-hoof indie spirit of Cassavetes in equal measure. Robert Pattinson is excellent as Connie Nikas, a morally bankrupt small time hustler whose attempt at a bank robbery with the help of his younger, mentally-challenged brother Nick (Ben Safdie, co-director) goes spectacularly wrong, kicking off a chain of events that seemingly take place over the course of one night.

If some of the occurrences seem unlikely, it all unfolds at such an engaging, whip-crack pace that you don’t really have much time to dwell on any doubts. Set in Queens, the Safdies have an excellent feeling for place and characters, to the point where the smaller parts in the film (for example Jennifer Jason Leigh as Connie’s girlfriend or Buddy Duress as Ray, another criminal) are so well-drawn you feel like everyone is coming together here after first establishing themselves in their own, separate movies and stories… a sort of Safdie Cinematic Universe Lowlifes Assemble, if you will. That said, it’s not a film that’s simply full of schmucks being schmucks; there are good turns here by Taliah Webster and Barkhad Abdi, two innocent characters whose paths cross with Connie and who are later subjected to police profiling (indeed the film makes several smart but subtle points about institutional racism).
The plot gradually becomes concerned with a MacGuffin in the shape of a Sprite bottle that has been filled with valuable LSD solution, and as it does so cinematographer Sean Price Williams gradually allows a more lysergic, colourful take on nighttime New York come to the fore, the visual style augmented by some excellently-chosen shots from above, presumably made using drones, and sitting superbly alongside Oneohtrix Point Never’s skewed electronic score, which pulses in tandem with the action. I was hooked from the first scene to the last, both of which serve as bookends, and can’t wait to watch it again. (****½)

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