August 25, 2017
There’s something about watching a film where the main character is scrambling, always on the move, trying to survive in a world that feels like it’s crashing down on them. Sometimes it’s because that’s how the world works, sometimes it’s because of something our protagonist did. Either way, if they stop, they lose, so they’re forced to keep moving no matter what.
This feeling of perpetual motion pervades sibling writer/director team Benny and Josh Safdie’s Good Time, as every decision made by Robert Pattinson’s Connie Nikas forces his world to devolve further, the stakes to go higher, and the devastation to become more savage. With a bone-rattling score enhancing the action, Good Time aims for a pulse-pounding, emotionally destructive narrative in the vein of Requiem for a Dream or The Wrestler – two Darren Aronofsky films that undoubtedly inspired the Safdie brothers’ script. Unfortunately, as interesting as the pieces are, the whole is far less successful, delivering an experience that is a long way from a good time.
Connie desperately wants to take his brother Nick (Benny Safdie) out of the apartment they share with their grandmother and away from the special needs program that Nick’s required to attend. To that end, Connie enlists Nick to help him rob a bank so that they can leave town and start over. When this results in Nick’s arrest and assault in holding, Connie springs to his rescue in an attempt to get Nick out on bail. However, with the clocking ticking away on Nick’s freedom and with every plan Connie makes failing, the Nikas brothers fall prey to their increasing desperation.
The premise is simple: two brothers rob a bank, one gets caught, and the other upends the world trying to get him free. In this way, Good Time excels by removing any other distractions or disruptions. Once Nick is caught, everything focuses toward Connie’s goal. The process of achieving his goal, however, reveals itself as an unforgivable journey that takes Connie to hell with no possibility of redemption. This revelation within Good Time should add magnitude to the narrative, except there is literally nothing about Connie worth rooting for.
A desire to see Connie succeed is necessary for us to stay locked into the story. The aforementioned Requiem for a Dream is a story of good people being overtaken by their addictions, while The Wrestler is about a man striving to grab a moment of glory that makes his life mean something. In Good Time, Connie is merely a man willing to drag anyone he has to down to hell with him if it gives him a chance to succeed. You want to root for him, you absolutely do, and that’s to Pattinson credit as he delivers his finest performance to date. Connie’s gritty, grimy, and absolutely desperate and you will believe every moment of it. Unfortunately, wanting to root for something is very different from feeling it, and I couldn’t at any point due to Connie’s utter lack of moral high ground.
On its face, the concept of a journey without redemption is absolutely riveting, especially when combined with a strong score by Oneohtrix Point Never. The Brooklyn-based experimental composer has developed a blistering, hypnotic sound that infuses every moment with an all-enveloping dread. However, while dynamic and engaging, it more often delivers a feeling of nostalgic ’80s slasher scores with an updated psychedelia-infused EDM foundation that’s significantly out of place within the setting of the story. Rather than instilling fury and intensity into every pore of the screen, boosting the increasing turmoil surrounding Connie, the score becomes a counter-balance to the action – whether somber or frenzied – forcing a cognitive disparity between what the composers seem to have in mind and what we the audience actually experience.
While the story and sound failed to connect with this reviewer, there is value in Good Time. The Safdies demonstrate great skill in their direction and cinematography, creating the sense of an abrasive underworld just beneath what the average movie-goer experiences day-to-day. Additionally, through the consistent use of close-ups and mid-range shots, there’s not a movement, glance, or act that escapes the audience. Combined with engaging performances from the entire cast – even the utterly wasted Jennifer Jason Leigh who appears briefly as Connie’s similarly familial-afflicted Corey and the spectacular newcomer Taliah Webster as the greatly maligned Crystal – Good Time should be the latest art house surprise.
However, the bulk of the film significantly suffers from developing a connection between the protagonist and the audience. Without the connection, the narrative is utterly boring; and the compelling cinematography begins to feel like a pair of hands prying our eyes open, making it impossible to avoid Connie’s missteps through a continually detestable journey.
There are compelling and fascinating pieces of Good Time, but the sum total loses those those pieces’ strengths. For reasons both intentional and unintentional, Good Time does not live up to its title.
Star Rating: 2 out of 5.