Josh Peterson’s review published on Letterboxd:
Similar to how Hunger is an unbelievable directorial debut, anyone without a knowledge of Steve McQueen watching his sophomoric effort would assume it's the work of a veteran. His talent for writing, directing, and visual eye are only rivaled by a single-digit number of other filmmakers working today. And it's not just McQueen's full potential on display here; Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan give even better performances than I remember, and I held them incredibly high in my memory. Their bravery, vulnerability, emotional range, and line delivery are unmatched by anyone else I've watched in recent memory.
On the surface, they're regular siblings with very little in common, but they align in the guise of crippling mental issues. Mulligan is generally outgoing and bubbly, a talented singer who's tough and always fights for what she wants, mostly the simple attention of her older brother. Perfectly encompassed by her sole vocal performance of "New York, New York" by Frank Sinatra, she believes moving in with her brother in NYC is the change she needs to turn her life around. For her, New York is a vibrant dreamscape. Fassbender struggles to communicate at all; from the subtext it can be inferred that the pair had a rough upbringing, and this clearly has left permanent scars on him in more ways than one. Just the sight of his sister makes him uneasy, and he is unable to commit to an emotional relationship, only seeing value in his rampant sex life. NYC is everyday life for him, full of all the prostitutes, business, and booze needed to make the world go round. DoP Sean Bobbitt portrays the city and the point-of-view of each sibling in a sleazy perspective, full of soft colors and meticulous framing that somehow capture the feelings of both dreaming and restless anxiety.
As you might expect, the story is a downward spiral from beginning to end and is flawlessly paced, and given everything I've praised so far, it's damn close to a 10/10. Quite honestly, I see myself still thinking about the images and ideas of this movie days out from now, but on initial impression, I remember a stronger emotional reaction from my first watch nearly 2 years ago. The rating is honestly a gray area for me still, since I'm only taking marks off for small personal reasons, but don't be surprised if I bump it back up in the near future. It shouldn't take away from the fact that this is a fantastic and deeply wistful film that burns its way into the minds of everyone who watches it. It's brilliant in nearly every way, plain and simple.