"Good Time" (2017) Review
It's about time that Robert Pattinson ended up in a film this great.
That's not a slight against Pattinson by the way. It seems like there eventually comes a point in the career of any actor who appeared in an adaptation of a young adult book franchise where that actor tries to branch out into more serious or stranger films to prove that they aren't just the character they've spent X number of years playing. The trio at the center of Harry Potter have done this handily over the years (Daniel Radcliffe played a farting corpse in a film only last year in the best performance of his career for Swiss Army Man which sounds like me mocking Radcliffe's acting ability but trust me I'm not), but it feels like the Twilight cast has struggled a bit more.
Taylor Lautner tried to fashion himself into an action star with Abduction, which didn't work out for basically anyone involved with the project. Kristen Stewart has managed to act in some serious dramas over the years and recently earned high marks for her performance in Personal Shopper. But Robert Pattinson jumped onto the oddity train almost immediately before any of his co-stars, and with a shocking amount of gusto.
Before Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 2 was even in theaters, Pattinson teamed up with David Cronenberg in 2012 to release Cosmopolis, an adaptation of the Don DeLillo novel. It received a mixed critical reception, but it was an ambitious move (Cronenberg and Pattinson later partnered for one more film with Maps to the Stars, also met with a mixed reception). Pattinson's career has had tons of interesting experiments since then, from the post-apocalyptic thriller The Rover to the recently released explorer epic The Lost City of Z. However, I have a feeling that Good Time will be the point that people will look back on as the moment where Pattinson became a top tier talent. He's been doing his damnedest to wash that vampire sparkle off of his skin, and by playing Connie Nikas, he's beyond succeeded.
The setup starts in a relatively simple place. Connie Nikas is a New York con man and hustler. He'll scam anyone in his path, but he loves his brother, Nick Nikas (played by one of the two directors, Benny Safdie, a fact that I will soon be revisiting). Nick is mentally challenged and while Connie clearly cares about Nick deeply, that doesn't stop Connie from putting Nick into a terrible situation. Within the first ten minutes of Good Time, the two brothers pull off a bank robbery, only for it to inevitably and horrifically fall apart. Connie escapes pursuing police officers, but Nick is arrested. To make matters worse, Connie can't even scam money together to bail Nick out of jail because Nick immediately gets beaten up and sent to the hospital.
From this point forward, the plot spirals out of control over the course of about twenty-four hours. But in a good way. Good Time understands that chaos has consequences, and that simple mistakes can cause massive ripples over the long haul and basically structures an entire movie out of minor successes and devastating errors. A few of the errors are easy to predict and spot, but others are trickier and nastier than you'd think.
These errors lead to some really nice diversions where we get to meet a fairly wide cast of characters, and these characters are where the film really shines. It's stunning to see how many actors, many of them in their debut roles, give such naturalistic performances on the various fringes of the film. The major talents in this film, from Jennifer Jason Leigh to Barkhad Abdi are in the film for literally a few minutes at a time before vanishing.
The film mostly focuses on Pattinson's Connie, opting to shoot most of the scenes in close up handheld cameras. It's the most claustrophobic New York based film I've sat through with a handful of eye in the sky helicopter shots to remind you of how much ground Connie is covering throughout the film. It's a grueling but excellent approach to the cinematography, broken up with location based neon lighting that feels surreal and grounded simultaneously.
As incredible as Pattinson is in the film, he's not the only actor who dominates the time he's given. Without giving too much away, an actor named Buddy Duress enters the plot playing a character named Ray who raises the stakes in every scene he's in. It's a morbidly hilarious performance that leaves a hell of an impression. Just as impressive though is Benny Safdie as Nick. His character doesn't have a ton of time on screen, but he brings a sad and realistic humanity to the character.
One final aspect worth really talking about is the excellent soundtrack, composed by musician Daniel Lopatin, who is credited by the name Oneohtrix Point Never for the film. It's an astonishing use of 80s style synth that goes far beyond just trying to reminisce the grimy 80s crime thrillers that Good Time resembles. It forms the pulsating spine of an already tense narrative. For as incredible as the acting, writing, and cinematography is, the film would be far worse off without its excellent soundtrack. It's so damn good that if nothing about this movie sounds appealing to you at all, at least give the soundtrack a listen.
If I have any complaints about Good Time, it involves one scene between Connie and a sixteen year old girl named Crystal. The scene technically works and makes an unfortunate amount of sense in its narrative, but it doesn't make it any less uncomfortable to sit through. Again, it functionally works in the story, but shoves Connie into an even more despicable light than he was already in at that point in the story. The ending also might leave something to be desired, but the more I thought about it the more I really love it, so that's not a problem for me.
There's no shortage of "Good Time at the movie jokes" that you could make based on this film's title, but there's no denying that Good Time will be one of the more unique crime thrillers that you can see in a theater this year. I'd really encourage anyone who reads this and has a showing near them to go out and support this strange venture from the Safdie Brothers. They've made something uniquely grimy in the modern era and pulled it off successfully, and that's a pretty tall order in a world filled with neon soaked homages to 80s era filmmaking.
And as a side note, A24 continues to consistently distribute my favorite films of the year. Keep up the great work.