Benny & Josh Safdie

7.0 Daddy Longlegs (2009)
6.8 Heaven Knows What (2014)
6.4 Good Time (2017)
7.3 Uncut Gems (2019)

Josh Safdie debuted with The Pleasure of Being Robbed (2008) but then began directing in collaboration with Benny Safdie, first on Daddy Longlegs (2009) and then on Heaven Knows What (2014), a drama of outcasts and losers shot in quasi documentary style. The most powerful scenes are actually the scenes in which the junkies walk, talk, argue and fight while ordinary people pass by, indifferent to them, unaware to what is happening in that hell that overlaps with the ordinary world. But the film is also a tragic love story, of a woman who is desperately in love with a man who cannot forgive her. A young woman, Harley, is crying in a New York street. She walks into a library and confronts her boyfriend, Ilya. She asks Ilya if he'd forgive her if she died. He says "yes" and she leaves. She begs for money in the street. Then she buys razor blades and writes a farewell note. She tells Ilya that she is about to die and leaves him the note. He tears it up. She tries to write another farewell note but he stops her, curses her, and tells her to just go and kill herself. Her friend Skully walks out with her trying to console her, but Ilya follows them and keeps insulting her and provoking her. She cheated on him and he hasn't forgiven her. Finally, she slits her wrist. Now Ilya panics and calls an ambulance, but he still refuses to stay with her at the hospital. He still doesn't forgive her. Next we see her in a psychiatric hospital, arguing and fighting with other women. When she is released, Skully is outside waiting for her in the cold. He offers help but she's only interested in finding her drug-dealer Mike. Mike gives her some drugs and she is all tender with him. Skully finds them in the subway and gets jealous and angry that she likes Mike and not him. She keeps telling him to get lost but it take a long time for a resentful Skully to leave them alone. They join a group of addicts till night. Ilya shows up but ignores her. Mike assists Harley shooting heroin in her arm. They start kissing and then Ilya come close staring at them as they make love. The following morning Mike steals mail and then they open the letters under a railway bridge. The only useful thing they find is a gift card. When she's begging again in the street, a weird orthodox Jew gives her money to stay high, but she spends the money to buy alcohol and then doesn't have money to pay rent like she promised to Mike. On the other hand, she demands more drugs on credit from Mike. The following day she follows Mike when he goes to buy drugs and meets the supplier who takes her on a motorcycle ride. One day Ilya shows up while Harley is begging in the street and uses her phone to call Mike telling Harley that he wants to kill Mike. Mike confronts Ilya in a park and they fight. Some friends try to stop them but Harley simply watches. Ilya is defeated but, before leaving, he throws a blade that cuts Mike's hand. Despite seeing how coward Ilya is, Harley confesses to Mike that she still loves Ilya. A heartbroken Mike almost overdoses at home. Later Harley gets a phone call that Ilya has overdosed in the bathroom of a diner. Harley rushes there and manages to revive him, saving his life. She returns home and packs her stuff. Ilya and Harley rob a convenience store and then make love on the sidewalk. At night they board an overnight bus to get out of town. In the morning, while Harley is asleep, Ilya gets up, takes his luggage, and asks the driver to stop the bus. He gets out in the middle of nowhere, hitchhikes, and finally at night gets to an abandoned house. He lights some candles and falls asleep. The candles set the house on fire and he is burned alive. Meanwhile, Harley wakes up and can't find out what happened to Ilya because nobody on the bus was there when he got off. She screams and yells until she is kicked out of the bus. She hitchhikes in tears her way back to New York. Eventually she walks into a diner where Mike is chatting with some addcits. Harley sits at their table without saying a word while Mike keeps talking.

Good Time (2017)

Uncut Gems (2019) documents a private apocalypse at a hyper-kinetic pace. The plot is an endless series of escalating disasters that, just when it seems to reward the unlimited risk-taking gambler, culminates in his ultimate defeat. There is a logic in the protagonist's madness but he consistently ignores the parallel logic of what happens when he is slowly but steadily alienating people. He treats them like peers who are greedy cynical amoral gamblers like him and can't conceive that they have different (if also amoral) goals and motivations. He tramples on their feelings until the logic of money cannot stop anymore the logic of feelings that his actions has set in motion.

In 2010 in an Ethiopian mine a miner is carried out injured and the other miners make an uproar. A group of miners return to the mine and discover a precious stone. The camera travels inside the veins of the stone which turns into the display of a colonoscopy. We are now two years later in New York. The patient, Howard, walks out and walks into a meeting in a jewelry store, but is attacked by two thugs who have been sent by his creditor Arno to collect the money he owes. They take all his cash and a golden watch. Howard tries to call Arno but Arno doesn't pick up. Howard visits his girlfriend Julia, one of his employees, and complains that he is stressed because of work and his family life. Then he visits a pawn shop where he raises some cash which he promptly invests in bets, so we realize how he loses money. He has an important customer, basketball star Kevin, at the jewelry shop but finds that Kevin's bodyguards have been fighting Arno's collectors and Arno's collectors, humiliated, swear revenge on Howard. Once inside, he messes up the deal with Kevin that his business associate Demany has set up, and even ignores him when he receives a shipment that he's been waiting for: it's the black opal from the Ethiopian mine. Excited, Howard shows it to Kevin and explains that he saw it on a TV show and tracked it down: the miners are African Jews. It's a rare stone. Kevin likes it so much that he begs Howard to let him hold it for one night as a talisman. In exchange, Kevin gives Howard his championship ring as collateral. Howard pawns the ring for a lot of money and invests all the money in another riskier bet, this time on Kevin's own game, through his bookie Gary. Howard doesn't see that he is being followed by Arno's thugs. Howard watches the game at home and further upsets his wife Dinah who wants him to pay attention to their two sons. Dinah and Howard already agreed to divorce. Later Howard walks into Julia's apartment to tell her that he won big time on his bet. She's not home yet and he hides in a closet and surprises her. The following day Howard waits in vain for Demany who is supposed to bring back the black opal in time for the auction. Kevin decided to hold on to the stone. Howard also has to fend off two other creditors who demand their money. Howard has to attend his daughter Marcel's event at school. When she's just about to go on stage, Howard sees that Arno's thugs are sitting behind him. Howard lures them outside and then runs away to keep them from hurting his family. They catch him and push him into a car where Arno in person, the loan shark, is waiting for him. Howard tells Arno that he won big on his bet but Arno reveals that he stopped the bet before the bookie could place it and took the money: Howard is broke and doesn't even have the money to pay the rest that he owes to Arno. They strip Howard naked and lock him in the trunk of his own car. Howard has to call his wife Dinah to come and open the trunk, and this in the middle of their daughter's performance. Demany tells him that he has the black opal, but when they meet at a nightclub he confesses that he still doesn't have it. A pop star is performing. His girlfriend Julia is also there. After the show the pop star hits on Julia and Howard finds them together in a bathroom. Howard punches the pop star and is kicked out of the club. Julia shouts in vain that she was just trying to sell drugs. Howard refuses to talk to her and leaves alone in a taxi. The following day Howard is threatening Kevin's lawyer on the phone when Kevin shows up with the stone. After a few embarrassing minutes because the shop's bullet-proof door doesn't open, Kevin and Demany finally walk in and hand over the stone. Kevin wants to buy the stone but a cocky Howard refuses to sell it for the price that Kevin is willing to pay. Before leaving the shop, Kevin demands that Howard returns his ring and Howard has to lie that he forgot it. Howard and Demany get into a heated argument because Howard has pawned away even Demany's valuables. While Demany is thrashing his shop in revenge, Howard gets a call from his doctor that the colonoscopy shows no cancer. As he steps outside the shop Howard runs into an apologetic Julia but Howard, convinced that she cheated on him, tells Julia to move out of his apartment. Howard attends a family dinner at his father-in-law Gooey's house with his wife Dinah and Arno, who happens to be his brother-in-law. Howard talks about his stone in front of Arno. Howard tries to make peace with Dinah but Dinah laughs in his face and tells him how disgusted she is by him. On the way back, while he's driving his wife and children, Howard stops at the apartment to make sure that Julia moved out. The following day Howard finally delivers the stone for the auction but the auction house disappoints with an appraisal much lower than he expected: it would have been better to sell the stone to Kevin. Shamelessly, Howard asks his father-in-law Gooey to bid on the stone to jack up the price, which he does, competing with Kevin, except that at one point Kevin stops bidding and Gooey is forced to buy the stone. Outside Howard promises to return the money right away. Howard asks Gooey for the stone so he can still sell it to Kevin, who was obviously serious about buying it. Arno and his thugs have watched the auction in disbelief that Howard got into another, bigger trouble. When he tries to come up with more excuses, they punch him in the nose and throw him in a public fountain. Howard drives to his office with the black opal and starts crying in front of Julia. They make peace. Outside there's yet another creditor who is looking for Howard. The phone rings: it's Kevin who still wants to buy the stone for the original price. Howard gets back Kevin's ring from the pawnbroker and meets Kevin at the jewelry shop. While Kevin is handing the cash to Howard, Arno and his thugs walk into the shop to get the money. Howard finds a way to pass the bag with the money to Julia and instructs her to bet the whole money on Kevin's game. Arno and the thugs try to force Howard to recall Julia but instead Howard finds a way to trap them behind the defective bullet-proof door. Furious that they are trapped, the thugs make a phone call and Howard guesses that his family is in danger. Howard then calls Dinah and tells her to get out of the house with the children. Howard is so sure that he's going to win the bet that he doesn't even think for a second to recall Julia. He forces Arno and his thugs to watch the game with him on his office's TV set (the bullet-proof door is transparent). Meanwhile, Julia is waiting for the end of the game at the casino where she placed the bet. Arno dispatches another man to look for her. Julia has to hide in the apartment of a tycoon who wants to have sex with her. Before the game begins, we see Kevin holding the stone in his hand like a talisman. A delirious and euphoric Howard watches as Kevin's team wins. Julia at the tycoon's apartment celebrates too. Howard frees Arno and his thugs, who have realized too that Howard just won a huge amount. But as soon as they are free, one of Arno's thugs shoots Howard in the face and then shoots Arno himself. The thugs then proceed to steal all the jewels in the shop. Meanwhile, Julia cashes the winning amount at the casino. The camera drifts inside the wound in Howard's face and we float inside his brain.
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