When we first meet Signe (Alicja Bachleda), she’s barefoot, in an old trench coat, nervously and quickly walking down a filthy New York sidewalk. None of the past lovers, men or women, she furiously dials is reachable, so she settles for a stranger with whom she exchanged numbers in a bar some weeks earlier.
She needs a place to crash and hide, immediately, and perfunctory sex with a failed DJ is a small price to pay for that. Director Julius Onah, working from a script he co-wrote with Mayuran Tiruchelvam, whips this tale of a damsel in distress into a dizzying but firmly controlled spin through Lower East Side nightclubs, flashbacks to Wall Street’s Wild West heyday, immigrant tales past and present, drug deals gone bad, musical instruments (violin, guitar, Serato mixing equipment) that serve as emotional touchstones, and the murder that sets the tale in motion.
Dryly narrated by August (Columbus Short), the failed DJ disowned by his Nigerian immigrant parents, the story flashes back, forward, and sideways, into riveting tangents that ultimately prove key as August and Signe try to stay one step ahead of a vengeful brother and a rich and powerful father.
Sampled old newsreel and security-camera footage flesh out the narrative, and the film’s visually arresting, but it’s the performances that hold it all together — Short, Wilmer Valderrama, Jesse Spencer, Paz de la Huerta, Míriam Colón, and Mike Starr, with Bachleda being the real glue. Her Signe is desperate, needy, vulnerable, calculating, and sympathetic all at once, making the viewer root for her long before it’s clear if she really deserves it or not.