Movie Review : Good Time (2017)
Good Time is one of the most celebrated movies of 2017. Lack of Oscars nomination aside, it was hailed by critics and audiences alike, won two prizes for its original score and even received a six-minutes long standing ovation in Cannes. In other words, Good Time had a good fucking year. But is it a good movie? That question is a lot harder to answer than it seems when you tune out the buzz. The best answer I can muster in three words is: eh, kind of?
Let's unpack this statement before you start pelting me with rocks, shall we?
So, Good Time starts with Connie Nikas (Robert Pattinson) pulling his mentally handicapped brother Nick (Benny Safdie) from a counselling session he seems to sorely need in order to go rob a fucking bank. And they don't have a crew either, it's just these two dimwit brothers bluffing a terrified teller with rubber masks and unchecked bravado. Of course, the police is alerted, a long chase sequence ensues and Connie's brother sure gets arrested. Freaked out by the idea his brother might not survive in jail, Connie embarks on a frenzied journey to break him out by any means necessary... while still dodging the cops. Of course.
I hate to be the one breaking it to you, but Good Time is not that good. Robert Pattinson is fucking great in it. He delivers a grimy and powerful performance that transcends any pre-established idea we might've had of him. But the movie itself is full of hot hair like a blow-dried whoopee cushion. Let's review the laundry list of derivative and/or underwritten idea it serves the audience like it was a six-services meal:
1) Connie's motivation for robbing a bank is muddle at best. Because his brother broke their grandmother's arm and they're going to be separated by the system? Won't they get separated by the system anything if they get caught for freakin' BANK ROBBERY? It's one thing to make your protagonist evil, but it's another ball game to make him evil and stupid.
2) Please, for the love of everything that's beautiful, stop making bank heist movies for the sake of making bank heist movies. These were cool in 1968, but there are about a thousand smarter ways to illegally make money in the twenty-first century. When I say this movie's full of derivative ideas, this is what I mean. The bank heist is awkwardly shoved in Good Time, like it didn't quite belong.
3) The brotherly love angle that drives Connie to desperately find ways to save his brother is a poor substitute for the fatherly love angle, which is always used to artificially motivate a character. Does Nick needs to be handicapped? Couldn't he have gotten in trouble himself and redeem Connie just a little bit in our eyes?
4) This seems like a textbook case of someone writing themselves into a corner. About 20 minutes into the movie, it becomes clear that there will only be two ways out for Connie Nikas: either in prison or in the morgue. The rest of the movie features Connie trying hard to delay the inevitable while getting even greater trouble. It's hard to empathize with someone constantly making his own situation more difficult.
5) The parallels with John Steinbeck's classic Of Mice and Men stop at this: there is one protagonist who is mentally handicapped and one who isn't. Oh, and he feels responsible for the handicapped one. There is no allegory for either the rabbits or the prostitutes because Nick is in fucking jail for most of the movie. Maybe it was the initial idea, but when I say the movie wrote itself in corner, I'm not lying.
6) Why is Jennifer Jason Leigh in this movie again? Does she have any use aside from walking around with her mother's credit card?
Anyway, you get the gist. I'm not going to list all the complaints I have with Good Time's screenplay because... well, I still enjoyed the movie somewhat. The Cliff Martinez-ish score raised the bar for 80s-inspired synth pop scores (because it's a thing, now?) by not calling attention to itself and blending in the tense scenes. No wonder why it won two prize. I can't say enough good things about Robert Pattinson's performance either. It's so good to see a young actor willing himself into greatness the way he is. He's working his ass off to make us forget about the sparkling vampire boy and it's working.
When taken out of their context, some of the scenes in Good Time are individually brilliant. The long and chaotic amusement park stint would've been amazing if it was actually building towards something. Same for the ol' switcheroo that landed Ray (the awesomely named Buddy Duress), in the movie. That was a smart, unexpected development that also eventually hit a dead end. If anything, Good Time showed that the Safdie brothers have this weird, bleak sense of humor they don't seem to fully understand yet. They have an almost Coen-ian sense of the absurd they need to exploit more if they're going to keep making these heavy handed crime movies.
Good Time definitely isn't all that. It's an alright movie that shows flashes of greatness despite being derivative and underwritten. The Safdie brothers definitely have a sense of style and pacing (and that weird sense of humor I was talking about earlier), but they need a script doctor to help them get to the next level. Good Time was, overall, a positive viewing experience, but it's also suffering from a crazy, out of control online buzz. Tamper your expectations when going in. This one doesn't reinvent the wheel.