Good Time (2017)

Directed by the Safdie Brothers

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Good Time is a very tense movie.  From the beginning you are thrust into a character’s world, and you’re never allowed a moment to breathe.  This comes from the fast-paced nature of the story (taking place mostly over the course of a single night) as well as the cinematography (tight shots, occasionally handheld) and the music (an 80’s-esque synth score).  The result jams you into Connie’s (Robert Pattinson) head space as he desperately tries to get his brother out of prison, with no regard for the people around him.

Connie is a strange brand of heroic.  You’ve likely heard a movie tagline say “he’ll do whatever it takes…” and here that is painfully true.  We’re sympathetic to Connie’s cause, even as he and his developmentally disabled brother rob a bank, with Connie clearly using his power over his brother to rope him along with this plan, and we’re certainly sympathetic to Connie’s desperate need to get his brother out of prison.

But Connie’s not the smartest or nicest guy.  He lies to his girlfriend, trying to get her to pay the remaining ten thousand dollars to pay the bond, and soon Connie heads down a path with increasingly absurd and complex twists and turns, each one getting him further away from his brother and from our sympathy.

Before I dive into it, it’s telling that this journey begins with Connie on the run and his brother Nick in jail, but by the end Connie is the one imprisoned, and his brother, thanks in no part to Connie, is out from behind bars in a much more stable situation.  Connie, we learn, is not the hero his actions suggest he’s trying to be.  Instead he’s just a man who acts too quickly to think morally or even to think at all.

The movie moves so quickly that you don’t have much time to think either.  We see Connie come up with a plan, then jump into the plan without a moment’s hesitation, and suddenly the consequences begin unfolding.  Though he wants to save his brother, Connie acts on impulse and greed, and one early mistake, in which he kidnaps a man believed to be his brother but is really someone else, leads to pure chaos.

At a certain point you wonder how Connie will get out of this, but… he doesn’t.  The story escalates and escalates until Connie is caught and you realize his capture was inevitable.  It’s only because this is a movie that you think he might get away.  It has the feeling of a drug finally wearing off.  Throughout the movie you’re swept along by the fast pace, and the video game-like music, always pulsating and propelling you forward, and just as night turns into day, suddenly everything runs out of steam.

After all this, there is a very somber ending that logically or practically doesn’t seem to work from a narrative standpoint.  This comes after we haven’t seen Connie’s brother for at least an hour of the movie’s runtime, at least not until now, but the end still works, almost solely because of the emotion it evokes.  Nick feels like he’s been left behind, possibly, by his brother, and yet he’s in a better spot where he can be taken care of.  This scene, in which he’s finally enrolled in a class for the developmentally disabled, something he and Connie have been desperately trying to avoid, shows maybe not a recognition of reality, but at least the first and only step forward in the whole movie.  Connie was never going to help his brother in the way he needed help, and now that he’s out of the picture his brother can get the help he needs.  The scene is aided by a wonderfully solemn song sung by Iggy Pop, his Leonard Cohen-esque deep voice suggesting a whole lot of weight to the moment that someone else’s voice might not properly convey.

Connie is cancer.  Everyone he touches seems to wilt and vanish.  The biggest example is Nick, whom Connie leads astray, such that Nick is physically aggressive with his grandmother when Nick’s around, but after he’s arrested, Nick becomes harmless when he’s around her.  It’s not until Connie’s capture, when he’s fully out of the picture, that Nick can take a step forward.

There’s the girl Connie comes across in the middle of the night, having talked his way into her house through the girl’s well-meaning mother.  That girl, much too young to be around someone like Connie and much too confident to know any better, lets Connie drive her car all around town, and she doesn’t bat an eye even when it’s clear Connie and his new friend (the man he kidnapped from a hospital believing it to be his brother), Ray (Buddy Duress) are on the run from the law.

I realize now that there is already so much I’ve neglected to bring up.  This movie is insane, but that’s part of the thrill.  When you take a step back, it’s all crazy, but in the moment, each decision makes sense given you understand Connie’s desperation.  My friend and I winced as we watched Connie’s plan to kidnap his brother from the hospital unfold.  It seems so ridiculously ill-advised, but to Connie it’s perfectly logical.

Anyways, that sixteen year old girl (Taliah Webster), falls under Connie’s spell.  He basically tells her he loves her, putting it in terms of believing she’s part of some sort of cosmic plan meant for him, and in the end she’s arrested on suspicion of breaking and entering a place called ‘Adventureland.’  How do Connie and Ray find themselves in Adventureland?  Well that’s a bit of a detour in which they try to recover money allegedly stashed there the day or two before by Ray’s friend, and it’s a detour which leads to Connie impersonating a security officer he beat into unconsciousness.

Again, this is all insane.  This sequence of the movie takes Connie away from a flawed but somewhat realistic character, to a more typical movie character, you know, the type of person who, despite their supposed limitations, can seamlessly impersonate other people.  Connie wouldn’t seem like the type of guy to be able to convince a cop he’s a security officer, despite the uniform, because that requires a certain amount of savvy and confidence Connie doesn’t seem to have.

But he does have desperation, and the point of all this seems to be that his desperation is like a superpower, taking away any moral thought and preventing him from experiencing anything resembling self-doubt.  Connie just plows through the world and the people around him.  The girl’s in jail by the end, Ray dies, and we don’t hear again from Connie’s girlfriend (Jennifer Jason Leigh), but it’s very clear that his girlfriend’s mother strongly disapproves of Connie, and that relationship has infected this mother-daughter relationship.

Is Connie really this bad of a guy?  The severity of his assholery is substantial and at a certain point even a bit hilarious, but does the movie ever indict Connie?  It almost glorifies his passion and dedication to his brother.  Connie acts out of love, but with no regard for anyone else other than himself and his brother.  This whole plan is meant to save his brother, but the detour to Adventureland is all about his own personal greed.

I think Connie’s actions are meant to show how damaging we can be when we act so blindly.  Your intentions don’t matter as much as what they make you do.

An interesting side note involves Buddy Duress.  I found him to be great in this role as Ray, and he was in the Safdie brothers previous movie, 2014’s Heaven Knows What.  I haven’t seen that movie, but the story, from what I’ve read, is that Duress ran in that world of drug addiction that the Safdie brothers were making the movie about.  He was friends with someone in the movie, and came along as one of the many, many non-actors the Safdies used.  By the time the movie was released, and Duress was receiving strong reviews for his performance, he was serving time at Rikers for a drug-related offense.

 

His character has recently been released from prison in Good Time, and he brings some humor and levity to a tense story, particularly in the story he tells midway through the movie about his first day as a free man which led to him leaping out of a car during an acid trip and getting arrested again.

There is a lot of video game influence here, similar but not quite to the clear video game styled cinematography of Kong: Skull Island of all things.  That movie used specific first person shots to resemble a shooter video game, but Good Time, through the music and title graphics, feels like Tron in many ways.  It’s more about the energy, I suppose, of a video game, but Connie’s escalating chaos does feel like levels in a Grand Theft Auto-like video game.

 

The last thing I’ll note is the similarities that have already been observed between Pattinson’s character and the Al Pacino character in The Panic in Needle Park (1971).  That old, grimy New York film followed Pacino as a drug-addicted albeit charismatic young man who makes a young woman fall in love with him and fall down with him.  Their love is almost adorable at first, but soon she becomes a drug addict, even turning tricks at his demand, and the movie ends with them walking off down the street together but with a sense of foreboding which really shouldn’t be foreboding since we’ve already seen the depths to which they’ve sunk.  The Pacino character, similarly restless and scruffy as Pattinson here, has a plan but a foolish, flawed one.  He acts more than he thinks, and the people around him suffer for it.

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