Good Time, 2017.
Written and Directed by Josh and Benny Safdie
Starring Robert Pattinson, Benny Safdie, Buddy Duress, Taliah Webster, Barkhad Abdi, and Jennifer Jason Leigh.
A bank robber finds himself unable to evade those who are looking for him.
Sometimes, rooting for the bad guy is fun. Let’s face it, we have all done it before. Even as a society, we are drawn towards mainstream headlines or media coverage regarding illegal activities. Presumably, it’s to vicariously live through that adrenaline as a method of escaping daily, mundane routines. However, the best crime thrillers are the ones that can concurrently provide an audience mixed feelings on a front and center criminal.
Enter Good Time and Robert Pattinson’s (who continues to deliver phenomenal work across the independent scene, giving a career-best performance here) Connie; a once again free man who decides to take his mentally challenged brother Nick (played by Benny Safdie, also one of the film’s writers and directors) away from social therapy to rob a bank so that they, along with Connie’s girlfriend played by Jennifer Jason Leigh, can start a new life elsewhere. The bank robbery is botched, so at this point, it’s fairly easy to dislike Connie… that is until he embarks on a nightmarish one-night odyssey through New York City to raise the necessary funds to get his brother out on bond.
Connie is at times morally reprehensible, broken from serving time in prison, coming out on the other side sociopathic along with an understanding of how to manipulate society for his gain (there is a fantastic socially relevant moment where he switches the cops from his tail to that of an immigrant African-American security guard), but he has a deep sense of fraternal love for his brother. He almost functions as a protector that unfortunately makes every wrong decision possible for Nick.
Keep in mind, that’s just the basic set up for the film. Directors Josh and Benny Safdie (coming off of their astonishing efforts on 2015’s Heaven Knows What) are again utilizing heavily synthesized music and electronic beats that propel momentum forward just as kinetically as each character’s next, usually bad, choice. Good Time actually becomes a dark comedy where it’s hard not to laugh at each fumbled attempt at nabbing big money, but for everyone involved it’s just more suffering and pain on what has to feel like the longest night ever for them. Also enhancing the style are numerous scenes lit in neon colors, including a hypnotically tense detour to a haunted house inside an amusement park. Adding to the always palpable sense of urgency is the creative decision to film most of the film with close-up shots of characters’ faces, which is an aspect that Robert Pattinson uses to tremendous effect. He is fittingly, constantly tense and sweating as the film rarely has a dull moment (there is only one portion I feel could have been sped up).
It’s clear that Nick will not last long in prison and isn’t going to rat his brother out as the one responsible (they’re almost like best friends in addition to brothers, with Connie truly being one of the only ones that care about him), as early on in the film he takes a brutal beating from others jailed, so there’s also fear and hope that he is even okay while Connie attempts to come up with the money. Benny Safdie delivers a memorable performance with limited screen time that never once feels disingenuous or offensive to the mentally handicapped.
At this time, I’d also like to praise many members of the rest of the cast without really mentioning who they play – part of what makes Good Time so damn entertaining to watch is how unpredictable the wild and seedy experience is -, namely frequent Safdie brothers collaborator Buddy Duress who has some hilarious dialogue and comedic presence, and newcomer Taliah Webster who is thrust into some uncomfortable, taboo situations that she knocks out of the park. Although, a bit of a thankless role is Jennifer Jason Leigh’s girlfriend character, who basically does a lot of crying for one moment before exiting.
Ultimately, Good Time is a movie about lowlifes doing terrible things, with one of them admirably stopping at nothing to rescue his brother. Connie also seems to be one with dogs and believes he actually was one in a past life, meaning he’s also a bit off his rocker, but still likable to a point. Recently, the Safdie brothers are telling familiar stories in fresh ways (the previously mentioned Heaven Knows What starred a now clean heroin addict in a movie detailing events of her own life), and have now gifted us Good Time, a crime thriller that asks us to ponder why we often cheer on criminals.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★