AngelsArcanum’s review published on Letterboxd:
Ayy lmaaaao. Celino and Baaaarnes. Turn uuuuuppp. Classic.
Alright, in all seriousness, a fun, very tensely directed film with simplistic moralizing, but delivered through a big, urbane tragedy that is interesting to see unfold.
The first very basic dichotomy you could take out of this film is between Connie (Pattinson) and Niklas (Safdie) - the former, able-minded and charismatic but manipulative towards the latter who has mental deficiencies and is naive but which belies a natural purity, the Safdie Bros seeming to hold Benny's own character and his goodness as a primal human essence.
Connie steers Niklas towards crime through a robbery at the start of the film, Niklas rather reluctant still, but roped into it, the root of the siblings' problems kind of vague but not entirely necessary for the trajectory of things. When Nik gets caught by police and Connie is able to evade them, instead of tending to his brother, coming back to go help him out of jail or at least persevere through it with him, he keeps scheming for a way to cheat the system and get him out.
As Connie wanders around figuring out how to get his way out of this predicament the dirty way, his journey exposes him to blighted people with honest struggles he disrupts, and his compulsive lying makes things worse for the other people he gets involved in his own mess. Leigh's character is feuding with her mother when Connie arrives and asks for a 10K loan to help his brother, and she has to take the money from the same mother's credit card, but she believes it is for the sake of something good, unaware of Connie's lie. That idea of using capital to achieve good things in tandem with the nature of "goodness" becomes more complicated through the bondsman who sees the painted bills and asked for that additional 10 grand as some moral compensation to balance it out. Sadly, Connie has no intention of making that money legitimately given he just stole 17k, and whether the bondsman recognizes that is also unclear, but again, means to an end, relative goodness and all that right?
As the film goes on, Connie's plan gets more and more long-winded, the mess he leaves keeps getting larger and the film seems to use that very moment to moment rush and distraction from the larger picture to replicate Connie sinking further into a corrupt rabbit hole and losing sight of what's important.
Curveballs happen all over, the people Connie comes into contact with are gradually less pure and his moral path becomes more fixed with no one to really draw a line and challenge him, even reaching the point where he acts condescendingly towards another sort of crook and calls him a screw-up and a failure. He doesn't know which way is up any more.
The film carries a deep fatalism with it the whole time, but the direction always feels urgent and lean, even when going into some backstories and such, watching Connie adapt to the situation to plan around it while morally not questioning himself at these turns is fun to watch in all its depravity. Again, feels a bit basic in its values (crime never pays) but the Safdies make the world come alive with all the characters intersecting, the problems of others having light shed on them, the fun thrills and a quietly imbued fable-like quality that makes it feel more personal.
Personally would've liked if it just ended with Connie in the cop car, zooming in on his expression of dread, defeat and utter emptiness to close things out (Pattinson is so dynamite in this!) to let his face do all the telling for the closing and how he has completely failed everything, the actual ending feels a bit safer and isn't as interesting I find, still okay though.
Still quite a tight little joy ride - fantastic acting, cool music, concise direction, dreamy visuals, good stuff.