(2017—Director: Benny Safdie & Josh Safdie)
(out of 5 stars)
“I think something very important is happening and it’s deeply connected to my purpose.” — Constantine “Connie” Nikas (Robert Pattinson) to Crystal (Taliah Lennice Webster)
Potential spoilers below
Few examples in Hollywood fit the phrase “slow but steady comeback” like actor Robert Pattinson. As with his former co-star Kristen Stewart (who glowed earlier this year in Personal Shopper), Pattinson has spent much of this decade shedding the creative trappings of the popular but critically-derided Twilight series. 2017 has become one of the larger steps in that patient process, starting with his nearly-unrecognizable supporting turn in the acclaimed historical drama The Lost City of Z. Now he steps from expedition assistant in a historical drama to dominating the spotlight in the modern-day crime drama Good Time.
Constantine “Connie” Nikas (Robert Pattinson, The Lost City of Z, The Twilight Saga) pulls his mentally-handicapped brother Nick (co-director Benny Safdie) from therapy to rob $65 thousand from a bank. During their getaway, the police manage to arrest Nick. Needing $10 thousand more to post bail for his brother, a determined Connie sets off on a one-night mission filled with adrenaline-fueled twists such as infiltrating a hospital and retrieving a hidden LSD solution at an amusement park. All the while, Connie spirals further into his darkest inner depths as the authorities press ever closer.
With the New York-based directing duo of Benny and Josh Safdie (Heaven Knows What) and with Josh and editor Ronald Bronstein penning the script, Good Time is an electric fusion of caper neo-noir and character study, with a low-key psychopath at its center. As the film presses further, it becomes clear that although Robert Pattinson’s Connie is the hero with the noble goal of liberating his brother, the means by which he attempts to do reveal him as a conflicted and delusional user of others. Connie views the therapy his brother undergoes as emotional manipulation, using that to justify pulling his brother out of a session to accompany him on his bank robbery. Connie offers little to no romantic affection when coaxing his girlfriend (Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight) to use her mother’s credit cards to buy the bail bond. He drags a teenaged woman (Taliah Lennice Webster) into his one-night mission and initiates some physical intimacy with her just to distract her from his mug shot on the evening news. When the hospitalized inmate (Buddy Duress) Connie mistook for his brother rushes through how he ended up at the hospital, all Connie cares about are the inmate’s immediate money connections. Connie never realizes the inevitability of the authorities capturing him and the whole story serves as his delayed acceptance of that inevitability. The contrast between his end and means makes Connie quite the compelling lead, one who is both likable as well as despicable.
Whereas most film noir and neo-noir heists track the entire operation from planning to capture, Good Time starts with the heist and then devotes the rest of its runtime to the aftermath, the inevitable conclusion, and the overwhelming paranoia in between. Robert Pattinson as Connie supplies much of that paranoia with deep focus, and the Safdie brothers were wise to have Sean Price Williams’ cinematography and Benny Safdie and Ronald Bronstein’s editing revolve around Pattinson’s looks, physical gestures, and dialogue delivery. The resulting frenetic and tight energy fills and motivates every frame of Good Time to heart-pounding effect. The technical cherry on top, however, is the pulsing electronic score by Daniel “Oneohtrix Point Never” Lopatin, who won the Cannes Film Festival’s Soundtrack Award when the film premiered there in late May. Inspired by other electronic composers like Tangerine Dream (Risky Business), Vangelis (Chariots of Fire, Blade Runner), and Brad Fiedel (The Terminator, Terminator 2: Judgement Day), Lopatin’s score has already become one of the most unique film scores of 2017 and deserves to contend for the Best Original Score Oscar.
Arriving at the end of a disappointing summer blockbuster season, Good Time lives up to its title for mature viewers, even though its narrative trajectory suggests otherwise. The Safdie brothers not only raise their cinematic clout, but assist star Robert Pattinson in his continued effort to distance himself from the Twilight franchise. With this and The Lost City of Z from earlier this year, all Pattinson requires now to firmly cement his new brand is a bona-fide box office hit to showcase the acting talents he had always possessed.
(Parental Note: Good Time has been rated R by the MPAA “for language throughout, violence, drug use, and sexual content.” It has also been rated L (Limited adult audience) by the Catholic News Service for containing “much nonlethal violence, including bloody beatings, brief graphic casual sex and an underage bedroom encounter, drug use, several instances of profanity, and pervasive rough and crude language.” Good Time inserts a few f-words in most, if not all, of its heated exchanges between Connie and other characters. A quiet bank robbery comprises one of the film’s earliest scenes, causing authorities to constantly track Connie’s whereabouts. Nick, on the other hand, gets beaten to a pulp after an altercation with a fellow prison inmate and is hospitalized. Connie breaks into a hospital and sneaks out a patient he assumes is his brother out of the building and tricks their way onto an Access-a-Ride. Connie makes out with an underaged teenager to distract her from his mugshot on the evening news. A clothed man is seen briefly and aggressively intimate with an unnamed woman in in a flashback. Another man is forcibly given an LSD solution from a Sprite bottle to make him temporarily lose his memory. A dog attacks a man. A man tries climbing on the outside of an apartment building, but he slips and falls to his unseen death.)