Good Time (2017)
Directed by: Benny Safdie and Josh Safdie
Premise: A small time criminal (Robert Pattinson) and his mentally handicapped younger brother (Benny Safdie) rob a bank. When the heist goes bad the younger brother is arrested and the older brother sets out in search of the funds to bail him out.
What Works: Good Time takes place in about a twenty-four hour period and the movie is an intense and at times bewildering story of a man trying to do the right thing in a lousy situation of his own making. Connie, played by Robert Pattinson, robs a bank with his mentally handicapped younger brother (Benny Safdie). The money is soiled by a dye pack and the younger brother is arrested and sent to Rikers Island. Connie spends the rest of his night on the streets of New York City attempting to raise the bail money. Good Time is one of the better New York films of recent years. The Big Apple has been the setting of many movies and television shows and quite often audiences are exposed to the same old settings and visuals. The New York City of Good Time is not the gentrified hipster paradise of Girls or the bourgeoisie New York of Sex and the City. Good Time takes place in a lower social strata and it is an antidote to the glamorous vision of New York that’s been cultivated in media for the past few decades. Good Time is visceral and vivid. There is an unexpected beauty in its grit and the film uses light extremely well. A lot of scenes are dramatically lit but in a way that is sourced to the setting and so the movie is highly stylized while appearing quite natural. It also has a pulsing electronic music score by Oneohtrix Point Never that suits the look of the movie and energizes the storytelling. Good Time is about Connie’s struggled to get himself and his brother out of their rut in life. The film does an excellent job avoiding exposition while offering us explanations through the action; we’re not told why Connie and his brother rob the bank but it later becomes clear that the money would have financed their escape from the city and from their lot in life. That theme of escape—and how capital is inextricably linked to the possibility of a better life—runs through this picture and it makes Good Time a deeper and more meaningful story than it first appears. Robert Pattinson is terrific in the lead role. His performance feels authentic and there is a desperation about Connie that makes him empathetic even while he alienates the people in his life. Benny Safdie is also very good as the mentally handicapped brother. Movies often portray the handicapped in a way that is condescending or exploitative. Good Time offers an honest and unglamorous portrayal of mental illness that’s in keeping with the gritty tone of the movie.
What Doesn’t: Good Time has a freewheeling story structure. The lead character has a specific goal but his path is full of twists and turns that take him in unexpected directions that lead to apparently unrelated places. That’s not a fault of Good Time. In fact, the zig-zag plot is integral to the theme of the movie, which is how lost our characters are in the labyrinth of the city. But as a result of that narrative style, Good Time is filled with supporting characters who fall in and out of this story. The relationship between Connie and his girlfriend, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh, is interesting but she quickly exits the story. After a time, Connie ends up with the teenage granddaughter of a good Samaritan (Taliah Webster) and their interactions hint at the promise of a future but she is eventually cast aside as well. Again, this seems to be an intentional part of the story design; Good Time is about isolation and the protagonist’s gradual loss of connection to everyone in his life. But because Good Time doesn’t offer the audience a sustained personal relationship, the movie may strike some viewers cold.
Bottom Line: Good Time is not necessarily a crowd pleaser but it is a very well made and well acted film. The story is about desperation and hope but it doesn’t offer simplistic solutions. It’s a challenging movie that’s heartbreaking and even haunting but it is also energetically produced.
Episode: #663 (September 3, 2017)