Mikey and Nicky

(USA - 1976)
by Mike Lorefice

Cast: John Cassavetes, Peter Falk, Ned Beatty
Genre: Drama
Director: Elaine May
Screenplay: Elaine May
Cinematography: Bernie Abramson, Lucien Ballard, Victor J. Kemper
Composer: John Strauss
Runtime: 119 minutes

A day, perhaps the last, in the life of two small time crooks who've been friends as long as they can remember, so long they can't even remember much of what they've endured. John Cassavetes has a contract on his head for embezzling money from the mob. He calls on Peter Falk in his time of greatest need because he's the only person in the world he might be able to trust. Unfortunately, Falk works for the same boss.

This film tries to fool us into thinking it's a neo-noir thriller, but turns out to be a deep psychological character study on friendship and betrayal. Genre is completely irrelevant. Ultimately the film is so powerful because it shows us how pathetic we are; how prone we are to botching all our relationships. We wind up hurting the people we care about, and often we don't know when, where, why, or how. We don't know what they are holding against us, and what's so awful is often the main problem is they've simply misunderstood our actions, words, and/or intentions. By the time they tell us what their grudge is - if they ever do - it may be too late to change their minds.

The film appears more like the ones Cassavetes directed with the raw aesthetic and the lengthy seemingly improvisation scenes of dialogue, and even co-stars his real life friend and regular collaborator Falk, both of whom give tremendous method performances. Like Cassavetes, Elaine May presents the confused and uncertain dialogue in its entirety rather than delivering the typical easily translatable shorthand that both the characters and the audience can understand perfectly. In Mikey & Nicky the characters and the audience don't know the truth and that really eats at them, like it does in real life because we can't tell what we should think or feel, what to make of the mysteriousness of human language and expression. Both characters mood, tone, and behavior is in a constant state of flux. The drama is all in the way the characters bond or clash. The activity they are involved in is utterly irrelevant; the power and fear come from the ineffable. It's a terrifying film because it makes you wonder if you'll ever really know anyone.

Mikey & Nicky fits into May's body of work by exploring the theme of premeditated betrayal. This is where we saw the shift in her work from treachery between male and female lovers to male buddies. What makes this her most unique, and certainly her most powerful work, is though it's still humorous and absurd she takes the situations beyond comedy and into the darkness of the human heart and mind.

Buy at Art.com
Cassavetes is at his most paranoid and self destructive, beyond caring because he'll be dead anytime anyway. You don't know if Falk is going to betray him, but as the film progresses it looks more and more like that's the plan and Falk just keeps having second thoughts because, as annoying, troublesome and selfish as Cassavetes can be, Falk really cares about him. I can't think of any other film where a friendship gets better and worse seemingly by the minute, the fragility of human ego and emotion may never have been so obvious.

Tension and anxiety creep into the picture in such a natural manner you just start feeling knots in your stomach, and they regularly loosen and tighten. A typical film would use the potential betrayal plot, but what gets you in the gut has little to do with that and much to do with the ever shifting nature of human friendship. That said, May creates a rhythm where they play off each other and work hand in hand.

Buy at Art.com
You wouldn't expect such a merciless and unsentimental film to come from Hollywood (at one point the studio took it out of May's hands and dumped the unfinished version into the theatres), much less be directed by a female. Though May manages to take you through seemingly everything relevant about their history in the most intimate and personal way, she does nothing to glamorize the good times. There are no warm colors and no flashbacks, just stark gritty drab realism throughout this long dark exhausting night.



Web rbmoviereviews.com

* Copyright 2006 - Raging Bull Movie Reviews *