Good TimeReviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 08/12/17 13:31:43
SCREENED AT THE 2017 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Whether the Safdie Brothers explicitly intended to make something that feels like 1970s cinema right down to the dirtier, more desperate side of New York taking the fore or whether the just got there naturally from starting from the same place with the same goals, "Good Time" manages the neat trick of seeming like a throwback to that era without ever coming across as an imitation. It's got a vitality to it that comes from not being so obviously controlled, but never gets so shaggy that it's not moving forward.It opens with Nick Nikas (Benny Safdie) being examined in a mental hospital, and it's clear that he's got some cognitive issues and difficulty with abstract thought. Despite that, his brother Constantine (Robert Pattinson) pulls him out, and they're soon robbing a bank, botching the getaway bad enough that Connie is soon desperate to bail his brother out, knowing Nick might not even survive overnight at Riker's Island. It's a fear soon borne out, as Connie is soon trying to find Nick at a hospital and teaming with another small-time crook (Buddy Duress) to recover a bag of drugs that can maybe get Connie the money he's looking for.
There's a fair amount of "and then this happened, and then this…" in the middle of that and plenty after, a flitting from one scenario and group of characters to another that can seem almost like the filmmakers are easily distracted, Good Time just moves. The Safdies set up what seems like a simple central relationship and then blow it up by pushing Connie into new bad situations, keeping the goals simple but always just outside Connie's grasp so that the running at them always seems natural and while the nervousness and panic accumulates, it doesn't require Connie or the audience to recall a whole lot and set one's mind counter to that forward momentum. It's clear that the situation Connie is in at any given moment is often a matter of his not stopping to think, but the pacing is just such that it's easy to get swept up into the bad choices.
Keeping that pace up also allows it to slowly dawn on the audience that this isn't a good guy no matter how sympathetic his initial motives are. It makes for a fascinating shift, as the audience sees the astonishingly destructive chaos going on but is kind of stuck with Connie as their point of view, and it works in large part because Robert Pattinson commits to the role completely, making sure that the audience can see from the start that Connie is incomplete without Nick. Writers Joshua Safdie and Ronald Bronstein drop just enough backstory in so that one can see where an "us against the world" mindset might come from, but it's watching how he connects to Ben Safdie's Nick, looking directly at him with intensity that he never really applies to the other characters, that shows us this. Connie's focus on Nick is absolute, and more than necessary; with everyone else, he's looking away, scanning the room, and even when he's not losing patience he's disconnected enough that it's easy to see him losing patience. Pattinson creates such an immediate bond on-screen with Safdie's Nick that it sticks in the audience's head, and then makes sure that his detachment elsewhere isn't quite so obvious, allowing for some initial shocks but eventually allowing a clear, natural understanding of how he winds up leaving such a mess in his wake.
Beyond Pattinson, the rest of the cast does a lot to make sure that Connie is part of a robust, believable world. Part of that is how non-professional actors are used for a great many roles; when Connie is in a bail bondsman's office or Nick is in jail, everyone around them is just going about their business rather than trying to play off the stars. It's a philosophy that extends to the whole cast as they pop in and often just as soon drop out - from Jennifer Jason Leigh as Connie's girlfriend to Buddy Duress as his reluctant partner in crime to Barkhad Abdi to a security guard, everybody is playing their character as the lead in their own movie. That doesn't mean they're trying to push Pattinson out of the way or anything, but their motives and situations are clear; they never feel like they're doing anything as a contrast to Pattinson or Connie. Co-director Ben Safdie is especially good as Nick, seeming to capture a very specific sort of impairment and a very understandable hostility to anyone like Peter Verby's therapist poking around it.
And while the gritty, in-one's-face approach that comes from playing up that sort of realism seems very street-level and simple-looking, it's got real style. The credits have a rough 1970s look to them like they purposely haven't been tweaked down to the pixel for maximum impact, and the pulsating soundtrack that becomes more prominent over the course of the opening is pretty terrific, not feeling like a deliberately limited throwback or pastiche from Daniel "OneOhTrixPointZero" Lopatin. The Safdies are great with sound and rhythm, to the extent that it pulls the audience through even when the visuals are chaotic and muddy. That situation itself isn't that common; though the filmmakers will sometimes have to make the best out of pushing their cameras into a cramped area, they tend to get a clear shot of what's important, and when they've got a little room to work with, they'll do some takes that are not just long in length but how they'll pull back via crane or drone to show how the city can swallow the Nikases up or what sort of impact they can have, depending on the action of the moment. That's often violence that is often bloody and unnerving, although given the forward motion of the movie, it only lingers just as long as necessary to make sure the impact Connie's seemingly benign quest is having.Indeed, there's an impressive calculation to the way the filmmakers use their film's length, putting a lot into 100 minutes but never making it feel like they're rushing or filling time. It's a fast walk forward, good use of time right until the final scene extends almost all the way through the credits, not wasting a second and giving the audience some much needed time to decompress from the tension and consider what this ending means. It means not a moment is wasted, and just about every moment in it is perfect.
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