Good Time (2017): A mad and scuzzy night-time odyssey

I often encounter people who appear to have a strangely hostile resistance to the fact that Robert Pattinson has considerably evolved from his days as a teen idol. These voices don’t tend to come from the fundamentalist camps of the Twilight or Harry Potter franchises, rather aloof and elitist cinephiles who have taken it upon themselves to arbitrate Pattinson’s eternal consignment to the trashcan of posh pretty boys who couldn’t possibly hack it in serious cinema. I don’t know if it’s a bizarre case of projection or an unfamiliarity with the nitty-gritty unpleasantries of Tinseltown (Heaven forbid someone having to do a bit of shit-work to get their foot in the door of the film industry, right?) but, whatever the case, the man has established a range that goes lightyears beyond his stints as Cedric Diggory & Edward Cullen.

Having stepped well outside of the heartthrob box to play troubled billionaire Eric Packer in David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis, Pattinson has gone on to deliver solid turns in strange, gritty and threatening works such as The Rover, The Lighthouse, Waiting for the Barbarians and, in what is arguably his most disturbing role so far, The Devil All The Time. His dry, enigmatic levity in Tenet is one of the strongest components of Nolan’s continually divisive blockbuster, and audiences around the world wait with bated breath for his incarnation of the Caped Crusader. If you’re simply not a fan of the guy’s acting, fine, but don’t pretend that he hasn’t branched out or is incapable of doing so, because it’s blatant poppycock.

The film that truly broke the mould for me regarding Pattinson’s image is undoubtedly Good Time, the fourth venture from increasingly iconic directing team Josh & Benny Safdie (two guys who deserve resolute commendation for their ongoing resurrection of New Hollywood). A strongly-performed, unpredictable nerve-shredder that takes place over the course of one night, it’s a dark, poignant, amusing and fascinating adrenaline rush that functions as a crime thriller and an offbeat character study in equal measure.

Constantine (Pattinson) and Nickolas (Benny Safdie) Nikas, predominantly addressed as Connie and Nick, are two small-time criminal brothers from a dysfunctional Greek-American family living in New York City. As the film opens, Nick, who has a developmental disability, is undergoing a therapy session when Connie aggressively bursts through the door, berates Nick’s therapist and whisks his brother out of the building.

With their perennially disappointed grandmother being the boys’ only nearby relative, Connie essentially functions as Nick’s full-time guardian, a deeply troubling fact given that the elder brother has engineered a bank robbery so that the duo can make new lives for themselves in Virginia. Adorned with crude and unsettling disguises, the scheme goes off without a hitch as the brothers silently threaten the clerk into handing over the cash before awaiting pickup from a contact. As soon as they’ve climbed into the getaway, the backpack containing the loot emits a suffocating red cloud of anti-robbery dye, causing the brothers to flee into a nearby restaurant and frantically clean their clothes, Connie impulsively stashing the haul in a bathroom ceiling panel. Coolly walking away, Nick freaks out when they are stopped by a couple of suspicious police officers, the resulting chase concluding with Nick tripping through a glass door and getting arrested and Connie narrowly escaping.

Desperate to get his brother out on bail, Connie presents the money to bondsman Eric (Eric Paykert, a real-life NYC bail bondsman) but is informed that he is $10,000 short. What follows is a singularly intense and crazy night as the opportunistic Connie deviously and unsympathetically schemes to raise Nick’s bail bond, his foolhardy and dangerous shenanigans dragging people he knows and ‘loves’ and complete strangers into a maelstrom that will forever alter the lives of everyone involved.

What makes Good Time so special is that the Safdies, in similar fashion to their most recent Adam Sandler-helmed outing Uncut Gems, suffused the film with the unmistakeable sensibilities of gritty 1970s crime dramas and thrillers, the piece beginning life as a crime-gone-awry, race-against-time nail-biter and metamorphosing into a study of the protagonist’s overall personality and how it directly accelerates the events that unfold. Pattinson spent a great deal of time socialising with Queens natives while perfecting the character of Connie and it pays off splendidly, giving us an authentic and consistently watchable NYC scumbag who is nevertheless a deeply unpleasant individual to spend any amount of time with, be it 100 minutes or 1. Connie isn’t a sadist, but that doesn’t preclude him from being a textbook case of antisocial personality disorder. It is implied that he is a life-long habitual criminal familiar with both social services and the judicial system and, with the exception of Nick, he doesn’t actually care about anybody (it could be argued that if he truly loved his brother, he wouldn’t irresponsibly involve him in illegal escapades, but that’s a sociopath’s care for you).

Connie spends the night exploiting, manipulating and abusing anyone he can for the purposes of getting Nick out of jail, including his tragically naive older girlfriend Corey (Jennifer Jason Leigh). He does this with a cold and glib remorselessness that is superbly difficult to witness as the story progresses, and angrily blames anyone except himself for any setbacks along the way. Although Nick is far too vulnerable to be among the nasty bastards in lock-up, one wonders (and even hopes) that it might plant a seed for a new chapter in his life, away from the toxic control of the destructive Connie. It feels counterintuitive in an extremely satisfying way given that we are simultaneously invested in Connie’s mission to rescue Nick from custody. Corey is just one of many unsuspecting people, including parolee Ray (Buddy Duress), intrigued teenager Crystal (Taliah Lennice Webster) and a hapless security guard (Barkhad Abdi), who are victimised (sometimes violently) by our pathologically selfish lowlife of a hero.

The film’s aggressive, anxiety-laden pace is fantastically underpinned by a pulsating electronic score composed by Oneohtrix Point Never a.k.a Daniel Lopatin, imbued with a throwback feel that evokes the brilliant Tangerine Dream soundtracks in Mann’s Thief and Friedkin’s Sorcerer. This frenetic atmosphere is punctuated by moments of dark and mean-spirited ironic humour, creating a ceaseless feeling of excitement in a story that could just as easily be told in a far bleaker, slow-burn fashion. The cinematography of Sean Price Williams is almost synesthetic in how it captures the ‘look’ of Connie’s internal agitation and volatility, his intense 35mm lens drenched in neon lighting and uncomfortable close-ups that immerses the viewer in a tightly-wound nocturnal underworld where Connie furtively slithers about like some spectre of misfortune. By their own admission, the Safdies concocted a popcorn movie, but it is one that is remarkably elevated by an eschewing of cliches and deftly applied social subtext.

Featuring a central performance that has already been lauded (and rightfully so) as one of the greatest achievements in Pattinson’s career, the film is made all the more robust by the talents of an excellent supporting cast, co-director Benny Safdie’s portrayal of Nick being a touchingly convincing portrait of a confused and impressionable man with learning difficulties and Buddy Duress’s strand as Ray providing a wondrously executed narrative detour. A captivating, unique and break-neck examination of one man’s chaotic influence on the world around him, Good Time is at once a perfect hark back to a bygone cinematic era and a testament to the fact that there are still people out there making original, awesome films that pack a lot of heart and balls.

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