Movie Review: Good Time.
Good Time is a raw indie film starring Robert Pattinson about crime and bad choices.
I was just about to write off everything coming to theaters in September until IT drops when I noticed that Good Time was making a national expansion. This film made waves earlier at Cannes and features Robert Pattinson in a gritty role, just the sort I’ve found him to thrive on. It would normally be the kind of film that goes right past the cinema on its way to VOD, but the complete meltdown that the box office is experiencing meant it got a shot.
The overall experience of watching Good Time is harrowing. The film is about two brothers with no prospects who take life’s lemons and try to rob a bank with them. The film is relentlessly bleak, showing a world of desperate poverty where everything can and will go wrong, and where a lifetime of bad decisions have conditioned our protagonists to take ugly and hopeless chances with alarming regularity. There is a deliberately cultured lack of polish to the film but the performances, pacing, and cinematography make it so you can’t look away from the story’s death spiral.
Good Time (2017)
Connie (Robert Pattinson) is a troubled young man who is trying to look out for Nick (Benny Safdie), his mentally handicapped brother. With no prospects, he decides to rob a bank and then flee to some fantasy island with Nick and his “girlfriend” Correy (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a woman he is stringing along in order to use her mother’s credit card. Things go awry and Nick gets picked up by the police, ending up on Riker’s Island. We see that prison life is going to eat Nick alive, so Connie has to scramble to raise the money to make bail in just 24 hours.
Anger and Misanthropy.
Good Time leans heavily on a rough aesthetic. Everything and everyone is ugly, almost unbearably so. Robert Pattinson must have purposely woke up on the wrong side of the bed for a year to inhabit the vicious yet charismatic Connie. One main character is so badly beaten that he looks like a fright mask that the camera will not stop pointing at. Even the scenery is dirty and broken. The only beautiful character is a young black girl name Crystal, played by Taliah Webster, that Connie cons into taking him around the city, and you sense that she’s on the cusp of being degraded and dragged into the ugliness even before Connie shows up on her doorstep.
The degradation of everyone in the story is itself a motif of the story. The drama starts with an overworked counselor trying to get through Nick’s surly demeanor with a little success…just before Connie comes in, curses him out and takes Nick away. That is the only point in which things may have gone right for at least Nick, and that is destroyed in the first five minutes. Everything else is a spiral into desperation.
Exploitation or Exposé?
Critics of the film say that it is tawdry and unbelievable, a lurid exploitation. Fans say that it is gritty and realistic, showing how the other half live. I felt that the drama sometimes overplays the trope of the depravity of the poor, but had its heart in the right place. You don’t have to live in a depressed city for very long to see a lot of Connie’s and Nick’s walking around. While the presentation is unremitting and extreme, it’s not unrealistic.
Character is Destiny.
The aspect that keeps Good Time from feeling like a titillating penny dreadful is the fantastic characters. Everyone feels very real. Part of this is the excellent performances from Pattinson, Benny Safdie, and Taliah Webster. The leads really excel at getting their emotional and psychological inner life out in front of the camera. This leads to the other part of the strong characterization, the dialogue and sound work.
Sound and Fury.
The sound work in Good Time is as rough as the characters and setting, and it can become overbearing. A synthesized soundtrack that feels ripped from 1970 can become blaring all too often. The dialogue is also often delivered just as loudly, which makes it hard to decipher what is being talked about until you realize that the volume is the content, not just the context. That Connie only communicates by curses and shouts punctuated by a few words of sweet cajoling is more important than what he says.
Shades of Noir.
Good Time struck me as reminiscent of another gritty psychological thriller, Taxi Driver. The visual elements share a style: the rain slicked filth of the streets, the harsh neon colors of a seedy city nightlife, and the reliance on ambient illumination. There is some correspondence between Crystal’s character and Jodie Foster’s Iris who are both spoiled “innocents”, and between Pattinson’s Connie and DeNiro’s Travis who both have fetishized one value into an excuse to do any number of heinous things. The end credits have a thanks to Martin Scorsese, and I can see how his work laid the table for this drama.
This film is not what you’d call a pleasurable view. It’s pretty apparent that directors Benny and Josh Safdie are going to throttle your senses early on. I would say that it is a rewarding film that is not afraid to inhabit dark and dangerous territory.
While the jarring elements of the film can be off putting, they’re not carelessly chosen. The squalor of the proceedings is important to the artistry. It can be heavy handed at times, but the lack of polish is turned into a weapon by the plot, and aided by the fine dialogue, strong performances and breathless pacing. This is a story about desperation exploding into an ultimately impotent fire, and you’re along for the ride no matter how bumpy it gets.