Good Time Bares Pattinson’s Thespian Teeth

Movie Review: Good Time

Robert Pattinson doesn’t need fangs to sink his teeth into the role of a perpetual loser trying to be his brother’s keeper in Josh and Benny Safdie’s gritty indie that keeps you guessing

Good Time

3.5/5

Starring: Robert Pattinson, Benny Safdie, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tahlia Webster, Barkhad Abdi

Directed by: Josh and Benny Safdie

Running time: 1 hr 40 mins

MPAA Rating: Restricted

By Katherine Monk

The title is more rhetorical than declarative. More of a dare than a guarantee, because ‘good’ doesn’t really have any part in this new movie from indie brothers Josh and Benny Safdie. Things start off badly, and they only get worse for Connie (Robert Pattinson) and Nick Niklas (Benny Safdie), two brothers who survived some unknown childhood horrors only to grow up social outcasts.

We meet Nick in the opening scene, speaking to a psychiatrist as he asks a variety of questions designed to evaluate his cognitive skills. Immediately, we know Nick has some challenges. He wears a hearing aid, has trouble speaking clearly, and judging from his answers to the psychiatrist’s questions, also has a hard time with abstract concepts.

Nick lives in the moment. He has no real choice, which makes him the ideal source of sympathy — and the perfect foil to his brother, Connie, who barges in to the opening sequence. Abrading the doctor for filling his brother’s head with lies and doctor mumbo-jumbo, Connie yanks Nick out of the controlled, medicated environment and binds him to his own personal chaos.

The next scene finds the two of them robbing a bank behind masks. The job seems to go well until the teller informs them she can’t give them any more cash. Connie refuses to leave with half a sack of cash. He wants it all, and this is when we get our first hint of true doom.

Connie is the kind of loser who obsesses about winning. Convinced he’s smarter than everyone around him, because he often is, Connie tries to be a player. He wants the big score, and there’s a part of us that wants to see him get it because Connie is a true anti-hero.

He loves his brother and believes he’s the only one who can take care of him. Despite the greasy hair and the slightly whiney tone, there is something faintly heroic behind Connie’s eyes — and it’s the conviction he deserves better.

He believes in the principle of the American Dream. The only problem is, he’s a loser. Connie’s arrogance has a bad habit of getting in the way, pulling he and his brother down a slippery slope of deception.

First they rob the bank, then Nick gets caught, prompting Connie to bust him out — only to free the wrong guy.

It’s a comedy of errors, only you don’t really want to laugh because you can’t tell if this is grand tragedy or merely the story of a generic putz. Pattinson is the mystery ingredient because there’s a part of us that holds out for a hero, even when Connie indulges the most depraved urges.

Is he good? Or is he bad?

It’s a comedy of errors, only you don’t really want to laugh because you can’t tell if this is grand tragedy or merely the story of a generic putz. Pattinson is the mystery ingredient because there’s a part of us that holds out for a hero, even when Connie indulges the most depraved urges.

The film doesn’t judge, nor does Pattinson, who clearly relishes the chance to show what he can do without fangs. He’s capable of changing his whole look, landing somewhere between Justin Timberlake and Eminem as Connie Nikas — career criminal, small-time gangster, and loyal sibling. He has good intentions, yet is dogged by nothing but bad luck.

Characters like Connie are usually played by a Dustin Hoffman or a Steve Buscemi. He’s Ratso from Midnight Cowboy and David Sumner from Straw Dogs, but when he’s played by someone good looking and well-formed like Pattinson, it forces the viewer to recalibrate the scales of sympathy. We’re conditioned to believe good-looking people are inherently heroic, thanks in large part to Hollywood’s long history of handsome men overcoming obstacles.

Pattinson juggles all these contradictions with the skills of a circus performer, and that’s kind of what this movie feels like: One extended walk across a tightrope of fate. The tension is palpable throughout, but we’re never quite sure if Connie is a clown, or a wily acrobat one step ahead of everyone else.

The Safdies are having fun keeping us in suspense, but at times, it feels a little like a wild goose chase that had no idea of its own destination. The movie comes to such an abrupt end, it can’t possibly offer a sense of catharsis, let alone satisfaction. Yet, an hour or so after leaving the theatre, you realize you can breathe a little deeper, laugh at the craziness you just survived and cogitate the myriad meanings of Good Time.

Depending on how you feel about criminal losers, the title could be a cue to throw your hands in the air, a warning to prepare yourself for a cinematic prison sentence, or — most likely — a little bit of both.

@katherinemonk

Photo courtesy of Elevation Pictures.

Read Katherine Monk’s movie reviews on Rotten Tomatoes or visit The Ex-Press archives.

THE EX-PRESS, August 25, 2017

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Review: Good Time

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Summary

3.5Score

It’s the kind of movie that gets funnier after the fact, because while you’re watching Robert Pattinson play a deadbeat hustler, you’re a little too stressed to laugh. Morever, so much of what happens in this Josh and Bennie Safdie movie is just plain unsettling. Focused on the dynamic between two brothers (Pattinson and Benny Safdie), Good Time takes us into the darker alleys of New York, where kippa-wearing bailbondsmen turn a blind eye to stolen merchandize for the right price, and a Sprite bottle full of acid becomes a plastic Holy Grail. The drama begins in a therapist’s office as Nick (Benny Safdie) tells the counselor about his abusive childhood. Now a grown man with a hearing impairment and mental challenges, Nick has a hard time navigating the real world – which is why his brother Connie (Pattinson) does his best to protect him. The only trouble is: Connie is a total screw-up. Every time he tries to do something right, it goes terribly, terribly wrong, forcing the viewer to make a choice between personality and traditional morality. - Katherine Monk

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