4 out of 5
Directed by: The Safdie Brothers
I had a problem with the Twilight movies – I mean, in that way that one can have a problem with such movies without actually watching them – but I don’t know that I ever had a problem with Robert Pattinson. I got the sexy vampire appeal, but the actor’s general “look” always sort of surprised me: he didn’t fit the (in my mind) generic picture of the lithe, sexy, badboy one would cast in that type of role. So it didn’t really surprise me that his post-Twilight work had him branching out pretty immediately into indies, and it also somehow felt natural for him to be a good actor, though I may have been sold on that by dint of a director like David Cronenberg having faith in him.
Since then, he’s worked on projects I’ve really wanted to see but haven’t had the chance to, and then some things that were really interesting, if flawed, but that he was fun to see in regardless. Still, I was a little cautious going in to Good Time: very interested because of another opportunity to see Pattinson prove his acting chops; worried due to the hype that had been built up around the film and directors The Safdie Brothers. I tried to tamp down my gut reaction to such hype (immediate rejection!), and pressed play.
But I needn’t have worried. Though not solely because Pattinson carries the movie – which he absolutely does, for the majority of its runtime – but also because the Safdies, from the opening, Pattinson-less scene of terse dialogue between Nick (Benny Safdie) and a psychiatrist (Peter Verby), prove fully capable of crafting the most immersive, grabbing scenes from just two talking heads. Nick is mentally-handicapped; we get the sense that this is some type of required session, evaluating Nick’s ability to process his surroundings. Lensed with warm, but confrontational lighting by Sean Price Williams, the scene is shot entirely in steady closeups, but not exactly to the point of purposeful viewer discomfort. Good Time sticks with this point of view pretty constantly, shutting out a lot of details and keeping us focused on a primary character – a glance, a roving mind – and it’s one of desperate observation instead of forced “edginess;” the movie – and by extension the viewer – is simply unable to look away.
The questions being asked start to probe at some troubling matters, and then Connie – Pattinson, playing Nick’s brother – busts into the room. Why is he brother here? Why are they treating him like this? Is this what he thinks of himself? Connie scolds his sibling, in a mixture of care and ‘stand up for yourself’ encouragement, though certainly misplaced in its affect. The camera swings out, and we’re on the move to what Connie would consider a better use of his brother’s time: a bank robbery.
From there on out – robbery gone wrong; Nick incarcerated and Connie trying to both recoup the cash and free his brother – Good Time follows the “one bad day” formula of pushing Connie further and further down a spiral, inciting, at different points, his girlfriend (Jennifer Jason Leigh), another dude on the lam (Buddy Duress), and a young girl (Taliah Lennice Webster) to help him through berating and pleading, only for things to go just as badly for them. This is the formula, but it’s not what the movie’s about. Connie – as portrayed by Pattinson – is a whirlwind of spontaneity, but he’s not an idiot. The way he continues to move forward is impressive, but also disgusting, as he’s a rather vile person, using anyone and anything he can to keep up that momentum. However, you can see cogs kicking ’round behind his every expression; you can see the moments when these people become “expendable” to Connie, due to some sliding scale of morality he maintains. Good Time is, then, a dense character study, mostly of Connie, yes, but also of those that get sucked in to his flow. Nick is a passenger in this also, of course, and the movie is bookended by important scenes that play into that.
The Safdies (from Josh Safdie and Ronald Bronstein’s script) are indirectly commenting on these personalities by not going out of their way to make any easy moral lessons of their stories – nothing is cast in a comedic or overly tragic light – but that also obviously allows the viewer plenty of room to find their own feelings, which are tough (in a good way; a challenging way) to suss out when saddled with such unlikeable leads.
There is, however, one surface element that seemed at odds with the movie: the synth music (Oneohtrix Point Never), and the occasional overuse of neon lighting. Both of these seem like attributes of more “retro” styled media, with ‘Good Time’s dot-matrix-y font getting in on the gig also. And I just didn’t get this. The lighting is more or less acceptable, as it’s used at times during which it can be justified, but the adherence to pinks and blues during these moments still feels particular to that retroness. The score works, on occasion, but it’s otherwise just too slick feeling, and took me out of a lot of the downbeats where it became too noticeable.
But I’m willing to forgive. It’s been a while since a recent director (or directors) have grabbed me so immediately with an opening scene – and followed through on it! – and marrying that to a fantastic performance from Pattinson made for, ultimately, a very gripping film.