Good Time

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 Good Time

A federally funded therapist (Peter Verby) compassionately administers verbal tests to an increasingly distraught, mentally handicapped young man.  As tears begin to stream down the face of Nick Nikas (codirector Ben Safdie), it is clear deep truths about a potentially abusive home life are about to be revealed, but the session is interrupted by Nick's brother Connie (Robert Pattinson), who pulls Nick out as his therapist protests.  Connie needs to use his brother for a bank heist, but things begin to go from bad to worse during their escape and Connie goes to ever more desperate measures to save Nick in "Good Time."

Ben and Joshua Safdie ("Daddy Longlegs") proved their ability to plunge their audience into the dog-eat-dog streets of New York City with their last film, "Heaven Knows What."  With their latest, they've upped the ante, mixing bigger names into their nonprofessional street troupe and dialing their frenetic pace up to 11.  We may have not seen the likes of the resulting down and dirty thrill ride since Scorsese's "After Hours," but this film's downward spiral is one of its own protagonist's making and Pattinson is mesmerizing in a flawless performance as the conniving, fast-talking Connie.

Donning rubber black men masks beneath their hoodies, Nick follows Connie's lead as they successfully rob a downtown bank, but a dye pack brands them in their getaway vehicle.  After a frantic scrub up in a fast food bathroom, the two make their way on foot, obscuring their faces beneath their hoods, Connie praising his brother for his performance.  But a police car pulling up is too much for the rattled Nick and he bolts.  Connie gets away but Nick is caught after crashing through plate glass.

Connie, hell bent on bailing Nick out, goes to his girlfriend Corey (Jennifer Jason Leigh), whose mother is none too pleased to see him (it is here that we can deduce Connie's motivation, spoiled Corey only focused on a vacation he's promised).  With the bail bondsman's office closing in minutes, Connie doesn't have enough pristine cash and Corey's mom, anticipating trouble, has shut down her credit card.  After learning from the bondsman that his brother is now in the hospital, Corey's abandoned as Connie heads there to break his brother out.  Before the night's out, one which begins with the kindness of strangers, he'll have kidnapping, the arrest of a minor, trespassing, drug trafficking, aggravated assault and one death on his hands. Incredibly, much of what happens is perversely funny.

The Safdies' New York City is populated by those who haven't made it, the downtrodden barely holding on and those who prey upon them.  The film takes place at Christmas time, an ironic counterpart to the action on one hand, a comforting glow of hope on the other.  The screenplay (by "Heaven Knows What's" Ronald Bronstein and Joshua Safdie) is seeded with societal issues, at one point Connie's status as a white man elevating him above the sixteen year-old black girl, his duped companion Crystal (newcomer Taliah Webster), in the eyes of police (Pattinson's subtle acknowledgement of the injustice is one of the many nuances he's layered into Connie). Dogs are referenced throughout, Corey's trio of pampered pooches lolling on her bed, another security guard Dash's (Barkhad Abdi, "Captain Phillips") lone companion, Connie stating he was one in a previous life.

Pattinson, so good earlier this year in "The Lost City of Z" and "Queen of the Desert," is the eye of a hurricane here, his most commanding performance to date.  The actor has turned hyperventilation into an acting style - we can see his mind racing two steps ahead, leaping, often without looking, out of each predicament Connie finds himself in.  His charismatic intensity keeps us rooting for him despite his deplorable acts, his focus on Nick so laser sharp, we almost forget his own collusion.  His Connie may be a rotter, but there's a heart in there somewhere.  Safdie is heartbreakingly real as the manchild with no port in the storm.  The film was shot guerilla style by cinematographer Sean Price Williams, who gives us a lay of the land from Connie's perspective.  Daniel Lopatin's synth score propels the action, albeit gratingly at times.

Even with its double entendre title, "Good Time" gives one things to ponder while delivering one hell of a ride.  This is independent filmmaking at its finest.

Grade:  A-

Connie (Robert Pattinson) has always looked after his brother, Nick (Bennie Safdie), but has not always made the right decisions. Like right now, as they plan and perform a bank robbery. It does not go well and, while Connie gets away, Nick is arrested. This is going to be a long night for the petty criminal as he tries every trick he knows to get Nick out of jail in “Good Time.”

There is a strong “After Hours (1985)” vibe in Joshua and Bennie Safdie’s story about a night in the life of thief turned bank robber and fugitive, Constantine Nikas. In the wonderfully staged bank robbery scene – I am not going to tell any details, you have to see it with fresh eyes – the tone is set for the remainder of the film: frantic, fast and, very often, funny.

The getaway is totally botched and, as said, Nick ends up in the slammer. And, if Connie wants to get him out, he has to come up with $25000 for the bail. This begins Constantine’s downward spiral as his good intentions are hindered by Connie himself – for him, a lie is better than the truth, but he always loses track of his lies. He drags in anyone he can to get the money, including Connie’s girlfriend, Corey (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who is long used to his ways.

I used to disdain Robert Pattinson as an actor – primarily because of the “Twilight” franchise. But, over the past few years he has ensconced himself in characters and, because of this, is becoming an actor of note – T.E. Lawrence in “Queen of the Desert (2015)” and explorer Henry Costin in “The Lost City of Z (2016)” to name two. The actor owns his center character in “Good Time” and, despite his reprehensible ways, you want to see Connie save Nick and, together, ride off into the metaphoric sunset. I give it B.
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