Emily the Criminal

Emily the Criminal ★★★½

How many times do you think people said "Safdie" to each other on this set? The answer is, as many times as they want: maybe this lacks the sheer technical and attitudinal brio of the Safdies' best work (i.e., Good Time, a formidably high bar), but it also holds together better than Heaven Knows What or Uncut Gems and is less patience-testing than either. Emily also packs a different kind of surprise, since the levels of tension, plot reversal, and disciplined film craft keep mounting from the opening scenes, which barely hint at how far the movie or the title character might travel.

Plaza, an actress I've held somewhat at arm's length despite several indications of promise and ambition, really goes the distance here, refusing to trawl for sympathy or to soften the character in almost any way. She's well-paired with charismatic and spryly mysterious Theo Rossi, who's more casually seductive than she is but also a likely source of trouble. A few scenes (driving a car off a lot, going to real lengths for a friend's dog, blowing two different job interviews, deciding that cash is thicker than blood or water) are tautly assembled even by comparison to sturdy peers in this genre. I promise that was my reaction even before noticing that a former student is billed as the editor! Not too sure about the coda, and there are characters and story strands that might have been more fully exploited, but I'm absolutely seeing why so many people recommended this to me.


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