Independent film not such a 'Good Time'
“Good Time,” an independent film made by Benny and Josh Safdie, revolves around a bank robber stuck between a rock and a hard place. His mentally disabled brother was arrested and blamed for their robbery gone awry, his romantic relationship with an older woman is poisonous for both parties and his financial woes are already overwhelming when his brother’s bail payment is added to the list.
The film follows a bank robber named Connie, played by Robert Pattinson, into the neon-drenched, seedy underbelly of New York City. His run-ins with colorful characters with questionable life choices propel the story into a dark direction that proves there is nothing Connie won’t do and no bar lower to sink to. Captivating as this may seem, the tumultuous experience in the theater will leave a bad taste in your mouth.
The opening scene of the movie reveals the dynamic between the two characters, Connie and his brother Nick, played by co-director Benny Safdie. We watch Nick talking to a therapist about his life struggles in and outside his family when, all of a sudden, Connie barges in to belittle the therapist’s opinion and accuses the therapist of turning his own brother against him. The calm and stable camera during the interview is jarred by Connie’s entrance and shaky between sporadic cuts during his accusations.
In a sense, the entire movie was like this stylistically. Only upon Connie’s reflection on his sins at the end of the film does the camera focus on a singular subject and remain motionless. This artistic choice was an understandable technique to convey stress and Connie’s hyperactive and improvisational thought process. Yet the entire movie is cut, tiring the audience and blurring the neon vistas of 3 a.m. Queens. The shaky-cam technique is overused, ever-present even in moments of rest and tranquility. It discomforted me — not as intended through sympathy for the character’s horrible situation, but in an overall film experience. One can’t help but compare it to another thriller that came out this summer: “Dunkirk.”
While there were scenes amid the bombings of Dunkirk beach and the dogfights in the air that allowed the audience to breathe, “Good Time” gave me no such time to digest Connie’s actions and his predicaments. Rather than attempting to maintain the non-stop thrill ride, it accidentally undercut the tension entirely and made the film quite boring, even dizzying in the middle.
In terms of its plot, the film relies solely on how deep into the filth and scum of society Connie was willing to go. His night begins with pestering his girlfriend to pay for his brother’s bail and ends with assaulting an innocent bodyguard to steal hidden drugs to sell on the black market. While the subject matter might be disturbing for the light-hearted, the plot itself should not be the focus of your attention. Just watch Robert Pattinson give the best performance of his career so far, almost making up for the “Twilight” series entirely. This will give him the attention he so deserves from the independent-movie-goer.
Alongside Pattinson on his journey are the criminally underused and extremely talented actors, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Barkhad Abdi. Their presences should have raised the film’s profile but were, sadly, used for a maximum screen time of 10 minutes each in this 1 hour and 40 minute film.
These missed opportunities came atop the egregious overuse of Buddy Duress, whose character was infuriatingly confrontational and downright annoying –– one of the main reasons the middle of the film dragged for me. While his acting may have been serviceable, his presence on screen was too long and his character written poorly.
This film overall has shiny gems within its pitch-black subject matter. Pattinson’s first great performance and sympathetic writing for his on-screen brother aside, “Good Time” was stressful and unsettling. The cinematography techniques were unique but overused. Your opinion of this film will heavily rely on your post-viewing consideration. It may seem much better in the moment than it actually does upon reflection.
My grade is interchangeable between C+ and B- depending on my mood and my appreciation of the Safdie brothers’ techniques; but for now, I will be sticking to the former. It’s a love-it-or-hate-it film, so I guess it’s up to the moviegoer to decide.