Good Time

GoodTime rev Good Time  (2017)    A24/Drama-Thriller    RT: 100 minutes    Rated R (language throughout, violence, drug use, sexual content)    Director: Ben and Josh Safdie    Screenplay: Josh Safdie and Ronald Bronstein    Music: Daniel Lopatin (aka Oneohtrix Point Never)    Cinematography: Sean Price Williams    Release date: August 25, 2017 (Philadelphia, PA)    Cast: Robert Pattinson, Benny Safdie, Taliah Lennice Webster, Buddy Duress, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Barkhad Abdi, Necro, Peter Verby, Saida Mansoor, Gladys Mathon, Rose Gregorio, Eric Paykert, Robert Clohessy.


 I owe Robert Pattinson a huge apology. For years, I labeled him a bad actor. I felt that he didn’t pay his dues becoming, as he did, an overnight superstar for his role as Edward Cullen in the Twilight movies. It didn’t help that he also starred in a succession of bad movies like Bel Ami, Cosmopolis and Maps to the Stars. I thought he was a joke of an actor. At least I did until I saw Good Time, the latest film from Ben and Josh Safdie (Heaven Knows What). Pattison, who plays a volatile small-time criminal trying to raise bail money for his brother, is brilliant in it. It’s not only the best performance of his career; it’s one of the finest performances of the year. The man can act. My humblest apologies to Mr. Pattinson.

 good timeLike they did with 2015’s Heaven Knows What, the Safdie brothers imbue Good Time with a raw, gritty style. It hums with tension and excitement. It throbs with nervous energy. Like its central character, it’s always moving. It’s anxious, paranoid and twitchy. It can’t sit still for a second. Much of Good Time takes place at night and this is where it recalls the great New York movies of the 70s- e.g. Mean Streets, Taxi Driver and Dog Day Afternoon. Nighttime NYC is a world within a world, one dominated by unending traffic and buzzing neon lights, brightly-lit hospitals and dark homes with TVs constantly playing, low lifes wandering the streets and unwelcoming fast food joints. It’s an ominous landscape that’s equal parts realism and surrealism; at times, the two are indistinguishable. In the thick of it is Connie Nikas (Pattinson), a guy with a natural ability to make bad things worse.

 Good Time opens in a therapist’s office where the doctor (Verby) is trying, with no success, to get through to his patient Nick (co-director Benny Safdie), a mentally challenged man who’s there by order of the court after a violent outburst involving his grandmother (Mansoor). Just as the doctor is starting to get somewhere with Nick, older brother Connie bursts in and drags him out. In the next scene, the two brothers rob a bank. Naturally, it goes wrong. The teller slipped in a dye pack that explodes all over Connie, Nick and the money. The guys clean themselves up and hide the money but Nick panics when the cops stop them on the street. After a brief chase, he’s caught and sent to Riker’s Island.

 With most of the money rendered unusable by the red dye, Connie needs to raise $10,000 to get his brother out of jail. He tries getting it from his girlfriend (Leigh, The Hateful Eight) but her mother’s credit card is declined. Things become more complicated when Nick ends up in the hospital after an altercation with other inmates. Remember what I said about Connie’s special ability? He proves it time and time again over the course of the night.

 Good Time is far more visceral than your average Hollywood-made crime thriller. There’s nothing at all conventional about it. Narrative takes a back seat to mood and aesthetic. In some ways, it recalls early Michael Mann films, Thief in particular. It absolutely pulsates with the suspense and anxiety that comes from placing a combustible character like Connie front and center. This guy is a walking, ticking time bomb waiting to go off. It’s like he’s fuelled by caffeine, adrenaline and nitro glycerin. He may not be the brightest bulb in the pack but he knows how to manipulate people. At one point, he comes on sexually to a 16-year-old girl (Webster) so she’ll let him borrow her grandmother’s car. Stupid and dangerous is a lethal combo. Like his Twilight co-star Kristen Stewart, Pattinson appears to have found his niche in small independent films. In Good Time, he’s very reminiscent of Al Pacino in Dog Day Afternoon. He brings such intensity to the role, it’s hard not to see the parallel.

 Good Time is one of the year’s best movies! It’s brilliantly crafted and visually stunning. The score by Daniel Lopatin (aka Oneohtrix Point Never) recalls the awesome mood-shaping scores of Tangerine Dream. It enhances the viewer’s sense of unease. It also represents the mood of the main character. Thankfully, these elements of the film are never distracting. They work in perfect conjunction with the rest of it. The supporting cast is also very good. The stand-out is Buddy Duress who played Mike the chatty drug dealer in Heaven Knows What. Here he plays a low life named Ray who unwittingly becomes part of the night’s goings-on. How he ends up with Connie I won’t say; let’s just say it’s another classic Connie screw-up. Once again, he plays a character who knows how to tell a story. If anybody in Good Time deserves to be a star, it’s Duress. He’s an engaging presence and a unique personality.

 I can’t heap enough praise on Good Time. The Safdies utilize several visual techniques- e.g. shaky hand-held camerawork, helicopter shots and close-ups- to create an experience that’s both fun and unnerving. It doesn’t wallow in misery and squalor like Heaven Knows What. It has a strong sense of realism that somehow feels this side of unreal. This is the kind of movie Hollywood made in the 70s, ones filled with grit and verve. It’s maverick filmmaking at its finest. I’d love to see more of it. I can’t wait to see what comes next from the Safdies. They have a distinctive voice and what they have to say is worth hearing. 

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