Hilariously “Good” Time
If you told me ten years ago, in the wake of Twilight, that Robert Pattinson would one day be in one of my favorite films of the year, I’d have laughed in your face. Hard. And yet, after the money train that were the Stephanie Meyer adaptations left the station, Pattinson has made a concerted effort to challenge himself as an actor and to distance himself as much as possible from the role that made him a household name (understandably). While he’s acted well in many a project, the films themselves always came across as subpar and didn’t really leave anything for him to do. Enter the Safdie Brothers, two young men out of New York City dedicated to making grimey, pulpy films partially inspired by their own and others’ experiences growing up in the Empire State. Together, they craft a gauntlet for Pattinson to go through that is equal parts harrowing and kind of hilarious (in a good way).
So Pattinson plays Connie, a good ol’ fashioned New York thug dedicated to earning as much money as possible by any means necessary to support himself and his mentally challenged brother, Nick (Ben Safdie). After the pair rob a bank and try to flee the cops, Nick ends up getting captured by law enforcement and Connie manages to escape their pursuit. Knowing his brother would be hurt while in jail due to Nick’s mental condition, Connie tries to bail him out with the stolen cash but comes up short to the tune of $10,000.00. Thus begins a very, VERY long night as Connie tries to either secure the bail money…or bust his brother out of police custody.
First of all, I absolutely love the pacing of this film as it’s integral to why Good Time works as well as it does. It alternates seamlessly between high octane speed, tense patience, and quiet moments of reflection, keeping you invested in the film while also providing an opportunity to process what you just witnessed. Peaks and troughs are vital for any odd thriller because it keeps you on your toes and let’s a Sword of Damacles hang over your and the protagonist’s heads, constantly reminding all that no one is safe. See Dunkirk for a masterclass of this method in action; and Good Time not only gives you the goods for a thriller, but throws intriguing characterization on top of that thanks to Robert Pattinson.
Pattinson plays a very complex character because for every ounce of sympathy you want to give him, he also provides five reasons as to why his character is an absolute cretin. This is the Brad Pitt-school of re-imagining yourself, i.e. ugly yourself up to lose the pretty-boy status and play a genuinely unnerving character as Pitt did in 12 Monkeys and Fight Club. Pattinson leans into a heavy Manhattan accent (moreso than he did in the uneven Cosmopolis) as his character displays a truly detestable nature of manipulating others, casually lying in the vein of a regular sociopath to evade suspicion, and sneaking around in desperation when he becomes aware of how much danger he truly finds himself in. Coupled with a fantastic make up job that aged him up about 10 or so years, Pattinson gives one of the best performances of a pathetic wretch scrounging around to live to see another day.
Assisting his performance is the stellar script from the Safdie Brothers, as together they all create a deeply flawed but relentlessly intriguing character in Connie. As film critic turned screenwriter, C. Robert Cargill, once explained, the best way to get an audience to follow your protagonist is to make them likable or make them interesting. Making someone likable is pretty easy compared to making someone interesting because you have to craft a person who makes decisions the audience normally wouldn’t make; but given the circumstances facing the character, it’s nonetheless curious to find out where their choices lead. And in Connie’s case, his choices lead him down a path of non-stop manipulation and increasingly absurd hurdles that require equally absurd solutions.
Keep in mind, many of Connie’s solutions are heinous as hell. From encouraging his desperate girlfriend (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to take money from her mother’s account to pay for the bail money or taking advantage of the affections of an underage girl named Crystal (Taliah Webster), Connie is an absolute wretch of a bastard. Yet he constantly does every terrible act to support his disabled sibling and even uses him to justify his atrocious actions. None of this makes him sympathetic in the least, but it does make him a three dimensional character. One with massive flaws in which Connie deludes himself that his good deeds somehow redeem him, when they do nothing of the sort. Some people will definitely have problems with attaching to themselves to this character, and that’s really the point: you’re definitely not supposed to like him or root for him, you’re just here to see how badly he’s going to screw up next as the protagonists of Pain & Gain did.
Given the subject matter, it’s understandable this film wouldn’t be for everyone. I’m fully aware I’m in the minority in my love of films featuring detestable protagonists slowly imploding, but I appreciate these films because they don’t celebrate the actions of their awful main characters (unlike some pieces of shit). They instead offer the thrill of a sideshow carnival where the ringleader says “Roll up, roll up, behold the amazing freak.” Whatever drops of sympathy the characters have do not lead them to redemption, because they instead embrace their darker sides and face ultimate consequences for their disastrous choices, hurting others in the process.
The dark characters are made enthralling combined with the brisk pace of the film and stellar acting from everyone involved, including no name actors like the aforementioned Taliah Webster and Buddy Durress, who plays an equally despicable and desperate character that Connie also attempts to take advantage of but finds that both are matched in terms of how low they’re willing to sink to see tomorrow. Similarly, one half of the writing-directing duo, Ben Safdie also gives a very subdued performance of someone dealing with a serious mental handicap. His performance never comes across as pantomime (the way I am Sam made me resent it), but it comes across as genuine and believable, all in service to the solid plot facing the rest of the cast.
I walked away from Good Time absolutely absorbed by its relentless style and fantastic cast led by Robert Pattinson. He’s easily one of my front runners for best male performance of the year, and I would recommend you check it out to see him alone. But as the film was firing on all cylinders everywhere else, I’m giving this film a hearty recommendation of an enthusiastic…