Thursday, August 10, 2017

'Good Time' Will Take Your Breath Away



This review originally appeared on SFist.com.
Good Time begins with a close-up on a young man's face. When he speaks, the sound of his voice suggests that he has a developmental disability. His name is Nick, and he's with a psychiatrist who's performing a standard psychological test centered on proverbs and their meanings. It brings to mind the opening of Blade Runner, and its Voight-Kampf test ("Describe in single words only the good things that come into your mind about your mother..."), but the young man's reaction is much different from the replicant Leon's response; he doesn't react with violence, but instead, with a single tear that falls down one cheek.

He's responding to the frustrating limitations of his own mind, but he's also responding to the kindness the social worker is showing him and the realization that his future is not looking too bright. It's a great bit of acting, which becomes even more impressive knowing the actor is Ben Safdie, who, along with brother Josh Safdie, is also one of the film's directors.

It's also an intense beginning that gets even more intense when Nick's brother Connie (Robert Pattinson) barges into the meeting and takes Nick away. Connie doesn't think his brother needs any social services, and besides, he's got big plans for the both of them.

Those plans center on a heist. Connie has convinced Nick that after this one score, they'll be able to buy a farm where they can both live happily ever after — perhaps with Nick tending to some rabbits.

Nick and Connie both don eerily life-like masks and generic construction worker costumes, enter a bank, and proceed to silently rob it by passing notes back and forth to the teller. Connie is the bag man, and Nick is the muscle. But Connie is not a smart thief, and it isn't long before the cops are after them. It's Nick who gets nabbed.

The rest of the movie centers on Connie's attempts to get Nick out of jail, first by trying to get enough money to raise his bail, and then by busting him out of a hospital after Nick gets in a prison brawl. All of this occurs over the course of one very long night in Queens.

Robert Pattinson has had a very interesting post-Twilight film career. After all, he can afford to take on roles in low-budget independent films, playing characters that don't have to be attractive or even likable, and Connie is at times very unlikable. But as Pattinson plays him, you also can't help but root for him, even as he's using everyone around him to get what he wants through a combination of charm and mania. He's moving so fast that people get sucked into his schemes before they have a chance to understand what they're doing.

The Safdie brothers are masters at creating tension, even in relatively action-free moments. In one scene, Connie is at the bail bond office with his girlfriend (Jennifer Jason Leigh) hoping she can use her credit cards to raise the rest of the bond. One by one, everyone in the office gets on their phones, until eventually everyone is on a call, some screaming, some trying to hear over the screaming, all trying to get the bond posted before a judge leaves for night. I swear it gave me heart palpitations.

Sound plays up the tension throughout the film be it barking dogs; an alarm system that won't shut off; a guy who won't shut up; or, most of all, the film's brilliant techno score (by Oneohtrix Point Never). The film's intensity makes it feel like what we're watching is happening in real time, while the locations and settings drive home the authenticity. The Queens houses and apartments feel lived in and real, and if that Adventureland amusement park looks familiar, it's because it was actually shot at Adventureland on Long Island.

Good Time moves at such a breakneck pace that you don't really have time to take in a lot of its nuances as you're watching it. It wasn't until the movie was over, and I could breathe again, that I was able to recognize some of the things the Safdie brothers were focused on, including some sly commentary on race and the criminal justice system.

If I have one complaint, it's that sometimes it feels like the Safdies are sticking with the dramatic when a lighter hand would be better. I don't know if they're just bad at humor or unwilling to acknowledge the absurdity of many of the film's scenarios, but some scenes fall flat because the tone is off. Martin Scorsese, whose After Hours the film resembles in many ways, has always seen the need for humor even in his darkest tales, so it's exciting news to hear that he's executive producing their next film. I look forward to seeing how that possible good time plays out.

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