A wild night in New York starts calmly enough. In a psychiatrist’s office, a young man, Nick (Benny Safdie), speaks haltingly. He is being assessed for cognitive function. It becomes obvious, that his capacity for understanding the complexities of the world is limited.
The big camera close-ups on his face amplify his discomfort. He is about to explain something about himself, something that maybe he shouldn’t, when peace is abruptly shattered. A young man, rough, wild, angry, erupts into the room and drags him out. His brother, Connie (Robert Pattinson, almost unrecognisable). He is agitated. Frenetic. The two brothers rush out – and go rob a bank.
A headlong rush into the absurd is about to begin. As afternoon turns into night, things go from bad to worse. It’s an aural and visual assault, big close-ups with an increasingly mobile camera, charged up with insistent and engulfing music. The music, by Oneohtrix Point Never (Daniel Lopatin) and featuring the legendary Iggy Pop, feels almost like a extra character in the film.
Pattinson is quite extraordinary here. An impetuous character, constantly inventive, digging himself out of one hole and into a bigger one. His survival instinct is such, that he spontaneously switches from his hard man into that of a beseeching, seductive gigolo. He reveals a dependence on the kindness of women, that is very revealing about absent parents. The latter’s absence looms large in this tale of desperate young men and lonely women.
The mind reels. Along the way, Connie collects hangers-on. Crystal (Taliah Webster), the grand-daughter of a Haitian immigrant, and little more than a child; and Ray (Buddy Duress) – just out of jail and already plummeting into a surreal escapade.
The high point of this absurd night involves more than one case of mistaken identity, an empty amusement park, a dutiful security guard (Barkhad Abdi), and a bottle of LSD. Horror and pity collide – along with sheer bemusement. It’s a lot to take in.
Jennifer Jason Leigh, as Connie’s girlfriend, is convincing in her portrayal of a lost woman about to hit middle-age, and yet childishly dependent on her elderly mother. The two brothers, Connie and Nick also rely, ultimately, on their grandmother (Saida Mansoor), but Connie has destroyed his relationship with her. He is just too much, even for the most loving of grandmothers; his affection for his brother does not extend to acting in his best interest, however desperate his attempts to do what he thinks is the right thing.
There is loss here, Connie willing his brother to be a comrade in crime, a knowing accomplice, when his brother just lacks the understanding needed for that. It’s both beautiful and sad. While Nick is understood by all to lack capacity, his wily and desperate brother somehow lacks that too, in a different way and for other reasons – and he will not receive the same compassion.
In this speeded up shaggy dog story gone mad, something quite grand emerges.
Director: Josh Safdie and Benny Safdie
Writers: Ron Bronstein and Josh Safdie
Producer: Sebastian Bear-McClard, Terry Dougas, Oscar Boyson and Jean-Luc De Fanti
Cinematographer: Sean Price Williams
Cast: Robert Pattinson, Jennifer Leigh, Taliah Webster, Barkhad Abdi, Benny Safdie, Buddy Duress, Cliff Moylan, Souléymane Savané, Phil Cappadora, Rose Gregorio, Jibril Goodman, Ratnesh Dubey and Shaun Rey
First published on myfilmclub.co.uk, November 2017