A career best for Robert Pattinson
If there is one, for lack of a better term, device in films which I cannot take, it’s the mistreatment of the mentally challenged. It’s unfortunate to report then that the new indie crime thriller Good Time has one of the most heartbreaking illustrations of such device in the treatment of one of its key characters. Watching what happens to this individual is both devastating and infuriating to watch as this most innocent of characters is being used as a tool; a prop to be twisted and bent every which way possible before being left behind. Not only is this character the only person in the film worth caring about, but as it happens, his fate is one of the many compelling elements in what will surely be one of the most talked about films of the year.
Good Time centers on the down-and-out Connie (Robert Pattinson), a New York lowlife who has recruited his mentally challenged brother Nick (Benny Safdie) to rob a bank with him. When a planned getaway quickly goes south and Nick is caught by police, a frantic Connie turns to whatever means necessary in order to get his brother out, leading him through a wild odyssey with consequences he may never escape from.
What Good Time has at its heart above a stark visual style and tightly-woven plot, is one of the most unbearable protagonists in recent memory. Some will no doubt try to defend Connie by claiming that his actions are all for the love of his brother, making him a worthy anti-hero. Not in my eyes. The reality is that Connie is anything but. His main motivation from the moment we meet him, until his journey comes to an end, is to save his own skin. There is nothing about this character which isn’t self-serving, manipulative or calculating in the very least. As his actions progress throughout the course of the film, it becomes clear that he doesn’t care anything about his brother as much as how his brother factors into the furthering of his own plans. To his credit, Connie is as resourceful as they come; a fact whch is displayed in the admittedly very impressive ways he is able to get in and out of situations which would leave most trapped. However, each are situations which he gets himself into as a result of his own ineptitude. Normally a person with this many character flaws would still be worth watching if they were at least interesting. But Connie is not interesting. He is self-centered, boring and frankly as dumb as they come.
Apart from a central character you wouldn’t wanna have a slice of pizza with, much less watch for the length of an entire feature film, Good Time contains one of the most unappealing portraits of New York ever put to film. Not since the 70s and the city’s real-life hell hole days has the big apple ever come across as a place where souls go to die. There’s a bleak hopelessness throughout every person and building shown throughout Good Time, showing a land where everyone is either desperate or just in plain ole despair. This is a New York where nothing good happens to anyone. At best, all anyone in Good Time’s New York can hope for is that the dark fates which flow through the city will leave them alone in their misery. Yes, I imagine there is a side of the city that is like that, but it seems overly pronounced here; as if the filmmakers have added on far too many extra layers of grit for dramatic effect. Other recent portraits of New York on film, including fellow indie offerings Person to Person and the dismal Chronically Metropolitan, seemed magical in the way it brought out the mystique of the city, regardless of the class of characters on the screen. According to Good Time, there’s no reason in the world to ever set foot in one of the most iconic, and apparently mythologized, cities in the world.
It would be safe to assume that because of these two hard-to-ignore aspects, the film would not be worth a person’s time and attention. And yet, so much about Good Time IS worth singling out simply because it never truly leaves you. For starters, the initial bank heist is well-executed, quiet and tense; proving itself to be one of the most engrossing of the genre. It’s the first of many sequences which contain a good amount of tension and build-up. What proves even more of a testament to the filmmakers is that such moments of intensity and suspense are allowed to naturally play out and breathe, adding to the overall experience. In doing this, Good Time maintains a distinct 1970s feel in terms of its movement and flow, not playing by the various rules audiences would expect it to. Adding to it all is the film’s score by Oneohtrix Point Never, which is powerful and pulsating; almost functioning as Connie’s conscience as well as his overall manic state of mind.
Pattinson is the best example of a stellar performance trapped in a lousy character. While there’s nothing to appreciate about Connie, the actor brilliantly captures and conveys the kind of frenetic energy that calls to mind the likes of Jon Voight, Dustin Hoffman and Robert DeNiro. If there is any real justice left in the film world, Pattinson will be getting some awards acclaim for his work here of which he is most certainly deserving of. The rest of the cast excels as well, save for Jennifer Jason Leigh who is typically great, but proves underused here as Connie’s neurotic girlfriend.
In wathcing Good Time, I was reminded of another New York-set indie titled Where is Kyra?; a dark drama starring Michelle Pfeiffer as a woman who proceeds to disguise herself as her deceased mother and cash her social security checks in an attempt at stay afloat financially. The movie, directed by acclaimed Nigerian filmmaker Andrew Dosunmu and lensed by Arrival cinematographer Bradford Young, wrapped filming nearly two years ago but has yet to secure distribution, despite rave reviews from every festival appearance. Where is Kyra? shares a lot with Good Time; in particular the darkness of urban life, the instinct for survival and the desperation within the main characters, both of whom have been tossed around by a society that no longer cares about them. The main difference between the two titles is that one features a character worth pitying, while the other presents one worth loathing. It’s certainly telling of today’s state of both cinema and society, whose story we get to see.