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REVIEW – Good Time

Directed by: Ben Safdie, Josh Safdie
Produced by: Sebastian Bear-McClard, Oscar Boyson, Terry Dougas, Paris Kasidokostas Latsis
Written by: Josh Safdie, Ronald Bronstein
Edited by: Ben Safdie, Ronald Bronstein
Cinematography by: Sean Price Williams
Music by: Oneohtrix Point Never
Starring: Robert Pattinson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Ben Safdie, Barkhad Abdi, Buddy Duress, Taliah Webster
Year: 2017

 

From the ominous ‘80s-style synth score, the splashes of neon-drenched cinematography, to the exclamations of praise for star Robert Pattinson, I knew from the trailers that Good Time was a film I wanted to experience in the theatre but which I was certain would open locally exclusively in the more expensive theatre that charged double for luxury seating and the privilege of seeing something non-mainstream. Imagine my surprise when this indie thriller instead opened in the mainstream theatres, making the experience so much more affordable. Now imagine my lack of surprise when I ended up being the only one at that screening. (I mean, sure, it was a Monday night, but still….) Even with the rave reviews and a Twilight star in the lead role, Good Time was always going to be a hard sell to mainstream audiences, but that doesn’t mean you, discerning and intelligent reader, should ignore what I think is probably one of the more compelling films I’ve seen so far in 2017.

Constantine “Connie” Nikas is an unusual protagonist. A low-life criminal who has very little regard for most others, we’re first introduced to Connie when he interrupts a session between his mentally handicapped brother Nick and a therapist who is assessing Nick’s stability after a violent incident involving their grandmother. Nick is perhaps the one person Connie genuinely cares about and clearly has Nick’s best interests in mind and heart, but rarely does he have the proper solution in mind. Case in point: his idea of bonding time is to rob a bank. As seems to be the case with almost everything in his life, the plan goes awry, and Nick is arrested, leaving Connie to hatch a plan in order to afford to post bail without getting caught.

Good Time expects audiences to empathize with someone who has very little redeeming qualities, which is why I left the theatre feeling even more assured of this film making very little impact with mainstream audiences. I don’t mean to say that with so much condescension, but it’s true – most people don’t like movies without protagonists they can root for, and the studios know this, which is why we end up with countless crime thrillers where the criminals are usually a lot more charming than the authority figures and usually even end up having fewer or lesser faults, or even a purported justification for their actions that allow us to look past their crimes. For example, the very concept of the old time “pirate” leaves us thinking of adventure and rebellion than rape and pillaging thanks to pop culture. So when a movie asks for us to consider the mentality and even admire the quick thinking of someone as unquestionably and unrepentantly flawed as Connie, I think that’s pretty bold. Directors Ben (who also costars as Nick) and Josh Safdie previously directed the acclaimed Heaven Knows What, a film that starred Arielle Holmes as a fictitious version of herself during a time when she was homeless, desperate, and frequently on drugs, and while I haven’t yet seen that film, I think it’s clear that the Safdie brothers have a proclivity towards a rare kind of empathy: one that accepts people as they are while still being brutally honest about issues that their subjects have yet to overcome – and may very well never will.

 

Robert Pattinson has continually impressed since his efforts to shake off his post-Twlight fame, proving to be a more than capable leading man and supporting actor through acclaimed roles in films like Cosmopolis, Rover, and The Lost City of Z. His role here as Connie Nikas has probably gotten him the most praise, however, and every bit of it is deserved. Connie is an intense character, but one who wears that intensity just under the surface, so you never know whether or not he’s in over his head at one moment or thinking two steps ahead of everyone else in another. This is a man who believes himself to be justified in every action he makes. He’s almost admirable, even, in his determination and skill in taking advantage of others who trust him. Connie is not really a morally gray area character, as we’re so used to seeing – and if he is, then he exists within a pretty dark shade of gray that’s almost imperceptibly different from black – but Pattinson’s conviction in the performance ensures that we understand Connie’s mindset and his perceived justifications for his actions, particularly in light of his one truly redeeming factor – his genuine concern for his brother – and so it’s still easy to want Connie to see his mission through to completion on some level, to feel like he’s the underdog we want to get away with everything, even when we know there’s really no justification for anything he’s done, no matter his ultimate intentions.

Good Time is almost ironic in its title, given the plight of its misguided main character, but for audiences hoping to see a compelling thriller that eschews the usual trappings of charming thieves, gentle disestablishmentarianism, and a cast of banter-slinging pretty people, Good Time is a buzzing neon sign beckoning them to take a detour down an unfamiliar back alley. It may not be safe, and it may not be glamorous. At the very least, it would be a welcome and honest change of pace, but at its best, it’s an intense, oddly entertaining, and remarkable film with a gorgeously bleak aesthetic and one of the most compelling performances of the year, coming from an actor who has successfully shed his youthful tween-to-young-adult-appealing past to become one of the more engaging and promising actors working today.

The Viewer’s Commentary Rating: 4.5 / 5

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