REVIEW: Good Time [2017]

Score: 6/10 | ★ ★ ½

Rating: R | Runtime: 100 minutes | Release Date: August 25th, 2017 (USA)
Studio: A24
Director(s): Benny Safdie & Josh Safdie
Writer(s): Ronald Bronstein & Josh Safdie

“Cross the room if you’ve ever felt lonely”

The first person we meet in Josh and Benny Safdie‘s Good Time isn’t its lead Connie Nikas (Robert Pattinson). Before he enters the picture to propel the film towards its kinetic search for ten grand, things begin much slower and much quieter with his brother Nick (played by Benny). He’s sitting opposite his psychiatrist (Peter Verby), engaged in a word association game to help diagnose whatever mental disability has afflicted him for too long without proper care. We catch a glimpse of Nick’s temper, frustration, and embarrassment—the road to this point obviously a rocky one as Connie and their grandmother (Saida Mansoor) both try and do what they think is right. While one has Nick’s interests in mind and the other his own, both love him completely.

It’s a powerful scene that says so much about who his character is and how Connie can manipulate him into believing he’s something else. Pair it with an equally emotional epilogue—bookends featuring the film’s most complex and interesting figure—and you understand why his brother would do everything that he does to save him. We become invested in Nick as a secondary lead, his relationship with Connie proving very quickly to be the heart and soul of everything that’s to come. But as soon as the two pull off their bank heist, over-extend their luck, and start running from the police, Nick is suddenly gone. The person the Safdie’s and Ronald Bronstein (who co-wrote with Josh) successfully have us care about disappears so Connie can take over.

I get it. Make the audience attach itself emotionally to the character that needs saving so they align with his would-be savior and become a part of the ensuing, unlawfully crazed adventure. On paper it’s perfect, but I couldn’t help feeling increasingly bored with every new improvisation to Connie’s plan regardless. The reason is that Connie has no potential of ever being a man capable of redemption. He’s the one who drags Nick out of a therapy session, pulls a rubber mask over his face, and gets him mixed up in armed robbery. He’s the one who knows his brother better than anyone—who knows Nick isn’t capable of controlling his fight or flight mentality—and yet willfully places him in a position where failure proves an inevitability.

There’s literally one thing Connie can do: turn himself in and take the fall so his brother can finally get the help he needs. While that’s the logical move, however, the resulting movie would last twenty minutes. So the filmmakers push Connie further down into the depths of a hell of his making. They plant the seeds for convoluted plans that only sound smart if you forget to follow them through to their end before commencing their no-turning-back machinations. Use whatever money he can salvage from the robbery to bail Nick out. Use his girlfriend’s (Jennifer Jason Leigh‘s Corey) co-dependency as a weapon to extort the balance. And when those options fail, break him out and go on the run. Connie’s actions are admirable, but they’re also stupid.

Don’t get me wrong, that stupidity leads to an entertaining night of close calls, con jobs, and unforgivable crimes. Once the ball gets rolling, Connie is shown to excel at making matters worse with little effort. He begins alienating those he relies upon for help, stops being able to control his temper, and ultimately covers one bad decision with another until he’s so far off the ground that there’s nowhere else to go but straight down hard. It’s an unhinged performance without a single reprieve or opportunity for optimism as Pattinson transforms his pretty boy aesthetic into gaunt, wild-eyed frenzy. His Connie is so deluded with a sense of superiority stemming from what we can only assume is a mountain of insecurity that failure is never an option.

Think After Hours for the acid-tripping millennial sect wherein Connie doesn’t stumble onto eccentric scenarios—he creates them. This is what happens when he forces himself into a guarded hospital wing, lies to innocent Samaritans in order to secure himself a hiding spot, and constantly manipulates everyone he comes in contact with (Leigh’s Corey, Taliah Webster‘s sixteen-year old Crystal, and the very police he’s running from). People will get hurt, arrested, or killed because of his actions and he will show no remorse because he cannot afford to let it get in the way of his guilt-ravaged mission to extricate Nick from prison. His brother will die behind bars without him, his penchant for getting into scuffles he can’t win costing a much higher price there than outside.

Good Time becomes a depiction of desperation set to an engrossing synth score that’s bathed in neon-lit close-ups of a city at sleep. The look and atmosphere is electric with Connie’s willingness to act without thinking lending the whole a level of unpredictability that should excite. But for all the surface appeal, I always felt at arm’s length watching a Rube Goldberg machine carefully progress through its intentionally elaborate examples of cause and effect. My constantly expecting the worst to happen conjured a sense of tedium where suspense should have been and I found myself watching to get to the end rather than experience the journey. It’s a shame because Pattinson is great in the role—a manic sociopath selfishly calculating angles no matter how dire the circumstances.

By the end I realized his unchecked aggression and criminal activity was too one-sided for success. Knowing that his actions would only exacerbate Nick’s situation more rendered his anything-for-love motivations false. We need the film to be about saving Nick and as soon as it becomes about Connie’s ego-driven survival, all hope for investment is lost. We can enjoy the adventure and be entertained by its urban excess, but ignoring the lack of purpose behind it all is too much to ask. I worried that Safdie’s performance of mental disability would go to far, but it actually becomes the film’s authentic heart and soul. His absence renders the whole a hollow nightmare wherein the supposed victim is the monster. The result isn’t as interesting as the Safdies believe.

[1] Robert Pattinson. Photo courtesy of A24.
[2] Robert Pattinson and Benny Safdie. Photo courtesy of A24.
[3] Jennifer Jason Leigh. Photo courtesy of A24.

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