I’m still somewhat in catch-up mode with some films from 2017, and Good Time has been ringing through the halls of movie-Twitterverse since its debut. A thriller and crime caper that focuses on the fraternal relationship between Nick (Benny Safdie), a sufferer of learning disabilities, and Connie Nikas (Robert Pattinson), a frenetic loose cannon who is both endearing and eerie in his bleach-blonde mop top hair at the same time.
Directed by real life brothers, Benny and Josh Safdie, Good Time is dripping in neon late-70’s and early-80’s typography. With a mix of rapid cutting and extreme close-ups, the film is both compact and faster than its 110 minute runtime, happening over the course of one night. The Safdies create a kaleidoscopic playground of harsh violet and soft turquoise lighting, both dampening and enlightening the fun house appeal through the contract between daylight and night. The film jumps between stark realism of those living on the fringes of society with Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory acid-like hallucinations.
The film opens with gripping realism as Nick sits in a therapist’s office answering word association questions. Nick’s responses are short and unadorned as he sits in a low florescent lit office. The questions and answers soon point toward possible parental abuse of Nick; as the emotions that aren’t completely conveyed through his words or deadpan appearance begin to unconsciously well up, like a spring that’s had its rock-like stop gap kicked away, the scene abruptly ends with Connie bursting in to take his brother away. We never find out what learning disability Nick has; though the details of his past abuses are tantalizingly close, the distance we do get is both uncomfortable and heartbreaking. We also find out that Connie, separate from all his upcoming faults, is one of the few people in the world who cares about Nick.
Later, we cut to the brothers robbing a bank. For being a crime caper, the Safdies fit social economic criticism and racial inspection in to the brim. For disguises, the brothers decide to dress as black men. The undercurrent in this decision, is the ease it takes to blame a black person for a violent crime. However, as well-crafted as the planned heist is, it’s filled with blundering mistakes that get Nick arrested and thrown into Rikers with Connie on the run.
The second half of the film, occurring almost entirely at night, is filled with half-baked schemes to break Nick out. Connie’s plan begins with employing his on-again-off-again girlfriend, Corey (Jennifer Jason Leigh), to put up the bail money. The crux of the film’s second half, is when Connie, in an attempt to find his brother, in a heist that would make the Three Stooges proud, accidentally kidnaps the wrong person from the hospital. The success of these sequences is contingent on Josh Safdie and Ronald Bronstein‘s screenplay, with its keen ability to turn minor characters into moments of gold, from Leigh’s Corey, to Barkhad Abdi‘s turn as a night watchman, and finally, Taliah Webster as Crystal, a 16 year old girl who accompanies Connie on his misadventures out of sheer boredom.
The moments between Crystal and Connie provide the most overt socially aware scenes. As both watch Cops on television, a woman is hauled away after an accidental stabbing by a cop. Connie changes the channel saying, “I don’t want to see them justify this shit.” Later, as the police arrive to arrest a suspected intruder, they key in on the 16 year old black girl rather than the white bank robber who’s face has been all over the news. In both instances, there’s clear commentary on race and social standing within a capitalist power structure. Good Time doesn’t require grandstanding speeches by its stars on these issues, but its questions and answers are made tangible and powerful by the focus given.
As with the best films, the lead, Connie, is the incubator for these questions and answers. Connie is a manipulative snake, who is cocky, calculating, and resourceful. He has survived on very little economic capital, “thriving” on natural “talents.” Talking to Ray (Buddy Duress), the convict he mistakes for his brother in the hospital, he says, “I know I’m better than you.” Persuasive, smooth, and handsome, Connie is a man who has never found a problem he couldn’t talk his way out of. He’s at once someone who cares, the love shown toward his brother, and evil, as he essentially performs statutory rape on Crystal, only to cut her loose later, manipulates his ‘girlfriend’ to putting down $10,000, and beats the crap out of a night watchman. Most of the violent scenes against blacks are handled by Connie. But mostly, as we see Connie pass through a nightscape of underground bail bondsmen and drug dealers, it’s what’s not present, the other people on the margins who go to work everyday and live their lives. Pattinson as Connie utterly torpedoes his image as Twilight heartthrob.
As Good Time recedes, one has to wonder why the film has its name. Nothing about the film is a ‘good time.’ It’s a tale of emotional vulnerability, danger, rough action, racism, classicism, and social ignorance. It’s a winding story of a near sociopath refusing to conform and fade into the dark corner. Moreover, it’s white arrogance on overdrive, the belief that you can get away with anything if there’s a black person to be blamed. Good Time isn’t an exuberant or happy-go-lucky emotional ride, rather it’s the cruel irony of white privileged in even the lowest rungs of class.
Follow 812filmreviews on Twitter and Facebook!
Photo Credit: The New Yorker