A deep departure from Elaine May’s previous two features—A New Leaf (1971) and The Heartbreak Kid (1972)—this New Hollywood picture owes quite a bit to the towering presence of stars John Cassavetes and Peter Falk, who play the titular characters: small-time Philadelphia criminals on the run from a pissed-off mob boss. Nicky (Cassavetes) is a wiry, violent grifter constantly getting into trouble and asking pal Mikey (Falk) to bail him out, financially and otherwise. The pair, pursued by hitmen, go through a spell of self-examination—both as individuals and about their friendship, which may not have weathered worse conditions. A contentious production in which May famously shot 1.4 million feet of film, with Paramount ultimately taking control of the final edit (essentially burying the film for many years), Mikey & Nicky has come to be regarded as a masterpiece, a key film of the New Hollywood movement, and a crucial examination of American masculinity. Content warning: gendered violence. New restoration!
May set out to use her genius and the overlapping brilliance of Cassavetes and Falk to articulate brutal, profound truths about the joy, horror, and complexities of human experience, as illuminated by the strange codes of a certain subset of insecure, violently overcompensating, crime-prone American men, and a tortured conception of friendship as a messy combination of hatred, love, and everything in between. She succeeded spectacularly, and Mikey and Nicky is an essential reminder that great, deeply personal art endures long after commercial considerations have been rightfully consigned to history. — Nathan Rabin, The Criterion Collection