Directors: Benny Safdie and Josh Safdie
Cast: Robert Pattinson, Benny Safdie, Taliah Lennice Webster, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Barkhad Abdi, Necro, Peter Verby
MPAA Rating: (for language throughout, violence, drug use and sexual content)
Running Time: 1:40
Release Date: 8/11/17 (limited); 8/18/17 (wider)
Review by Mark Dujsik | August 17, 2017
Good Time might be a secret morality test for its audience. It's either that, or the filmmakers have woefully misjudged their main character and how willing we're prepared to extend our sympathy toward him. He is, ultimately, not a good guy, and there undoubtedly will come a point at which everyone, while watching him smooth-talk and bumble his way through a wild night, will figure out that fact.
That's why it might appear as if screenwriters Josh Safdie, who also co-directed the movie with his brother Benny Safdie, and Ronald Bronstein have created an elaborate morality test for us. At what point does each of us determine that Connie Nikas (Robert Pattinson) isn't worthy of our sympathy?
Is it when he beats an innocent man to a bloody pulp? Is it when he seduces a 16-year-old girl to distract her from the fact that his face is on TV as the prime suspect in a bank robbery? Is it when he lies his way into the girl's home, or is it at any other point before all of this? Perhaps it's when he leaves his developmentally disabled brother to be caught by the cops while he gets away, or maybe it's when he convinces the brother to help in the bank robbery in the first place.
The argument could be made, really, that he's unsympathetic from his first scene, although the movie does a good job convincing us that Connie has the best intentions at heart, even though it doesn't have him state his motives at all. We can tell that, when he storms into the office where his brother Nick (Benny Safdie) is undergoing a psychiatric evaluation, Connie thinks he's doing what's best for his brother.
Nick was involved in some altercation with the brothers' grandmother (played by Saida Mansoor), in which a baking pan was thrown in her direction. Connie leads Nick out of the building, and noting another patient in the wing, he dejectedly asks Nick if that's what he sees himself as—someone helpless and incapable of caring for himself, basically.
In a single look and line, we can tell that such a fate is the last thing Connie wants for his brother. In the moment, whether or not he's right to take Nick out of this place is irrelevant. His decision is understandable. In retrospect, everything that happens could have been avoided, if only Connie had entertained the possibility that maybe he isn't the best—or even a good—person to be looking out for Nick.
The plot is fairly simple. Connie and Nick, wearing masks, rob a bank, using only pen and paper. Their escape is going according to plan, until a dye pack goes off in the getaway car. Connie flees from the cops, but Nick runs through a glass door, resulting in his arrest. When Nick has his bail set about a week later, Connie tries to use the money from the robbery to get his brother out of jail, but considering that most of the cash is covered in paint, he's $10,000 short. He'll find a way to get that money.
Above all else, Connie is one hell of a schemer and a scammer. The movie's plot is one that constantly throws complications his way. The fun, if one can call it that—a prospect that becomes increasingly difficult as the story progresses and Connie's desperation intensifies—is the way Connie has with manipulating a situation and people to his advantage.
In Pattinson, the movie has an actor who's capable of being both effortlessly and ruthlessly charming. He's a quick thinker and smooth operator, telling little lies to get where he needs to be—such as asking for the bathroom on the hospital floor where Nick is, after a fight in prison—and inventing simple, believable stories to play on people's sympathies—such as providing a minor sob story for a woman in order to get into her house to hide out for the night. If this is a test of the audience's moral standards, then we may be the targets of Connie's ultimate con, if only because Pattinson convinces us of something worthwhile in the character.
To reveal how badly Connie screws up his plan to rescue Nick would be unfair, because there is a certain, twisted entertainment in watching how Connie continues to dig himself deeper in a hole of his own decisions. What can be said is that he ends up entangled with a guy whose luck might be worse than his own (There's an amusing shaggy-dog story in the middle of the movie that shows how bad), and it can also be said, again, that Connie's choices become more troublesome as the night continues—putting others in potential danger and, at the final breaking point for even the most sympathetic members of the audience, causing grievous harm to a man who's simply doing his job.
It eventually becomes clear that the Safdies and Bronstein have made a morality tale of sorts out of this urban adventure (Consider where it begins and ends, as well as how little is accomplished in between). The question is how much we're willing to endure Connie's behavior. It's not a difficult question to answer, but Good Time seems to admire the character too much to outright condemn him.
Copyright © 2017 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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