I didn’t enjoy Heaven Knows What, but this Safdie follow-up is splashed across the covers of all three film magazines I subscribe to, so I went out all by myself (does nobody else in this town read the magazines?) to sit too close to the screen and watch a movie where everything is shot too close-up. Felt like maybe a bad idea, and I’m not always a fan of electro music scores, and I was already aware of certain accusations against the movie, but against all odds, it’s… extremely good. The nervous energy from the close camerawork and pulsing electro plus all the lurid colors and frantic performances add up to a… not a good time exactly, but a hell of a ride.
The only time the title is spoken in the movie is by Nick’s psychiatrist. The doctor is a white-haired nemesis to Connie, conspiring to restrict his brother’s freedom, appearing early in the movie’s trailer as Connie talks about “the program [Nick] is forced to attend and how he shouldn’t be there.” We see Nick going to prison in the trailer, getting beaten as his brother races against time to rescue him, then as images of violence flicker across the screen faster and faster the psychiatrist reappears: “This place where we are now can be a lot of fun if you let it. You’re gonna have a good time,” then the title sears across the screen. It feels like this wicked psychiatrist is taking advantage of helpless Nick, the title a bitterly ironic reference to the bad time Nick is gonna have in his evil institution. In the movie itself, it took me a couple scenes to shake this idea, since the psychiatrist seems harmless and Nick is the one getting his brother into trouble then trying to get him back out, in a rapidly escalating series of near-successes. Connie is (argh) a con-man, an expert manipulator, and we follow him as our would-be protagonist, the movie barely giving us time to contemplate the havoc he’s leaving behind him, until the deep-breath relief of the ending. In fact, the title is supposed to be a reference to getting reduced prison sentence for good behavior (Connie and Nick are both fresh out of prison) and the end of the film shows the psychiatrist actually helping Nick after his villain brother is sent away.
The first thing we see after Connie “rescues” his brother from the institute is a bank robbery, wearing dark-skin masks and getting hilariously foiled by a dye pack. In the ensuing chase, Nick smashes through a window and gets busted, and Connie fails to bail him out with Jennifer Jason Leigh’s cancelled credit card. Connie then breaks the wrong guy out of the hospital – a plot twist I saw coming but dismissed as too ludicrous-obvious – then teams up with him (Ray: Buddy Duress, Holmes’s buddy in Heaven Knows What) to make quick cash for bail money. Ray was busted at an amusement park, and stashed a sprite bottle full of pure liquid LSD and possibly some money, so they trick underage Crystal into giving them a ride there, fuck with the security guard, and everyone gets arrested except Connie and Ray, who escape with the LSD-soda to the guard’s apartment, where Ray calls his dealer and finally things go wrong.
J. Safdie on the controvery:
I don’t think Connie is a racist. I think that he just knows how society functions. He knows that society is racist.
Connie makes choices instantly, and one gets the impression that it’s an instinctual ability that has helped him at times but will only prove his downfall on this particular night … Pattinson perfectly conveys the nervous energy of being essentially hunted by your own bad decisions without ever feeling like he’s chewing scenery.