GOOD TIME (2017, Josh & Benny Safdie)
I was going to kick this off by saying “spoiler alert: they don’t have a very good time.” Then I realized I also started off my HEAVEN KNOWS WHAT review by pointing out that title’s irony as well. As it turns out, much of what I wrote after that could apply here — for better and for worse. On the plus side, this one is nearly as gritty and realistic, possibly even more invigorating and sweaty, and looks just as closely at the people we want to turn away from or ignore. But on the downside, it does all that without quite the same sense of verisimilitude.
Not to say the lead performance isn’t just as terrific as Holmes was — in fact, after a few sterling turns over the last several years, this is the best Pattinson has ever been. He doesn’t command the screen by chewing the scenery, he commands it by becoming the scenery. The Safdies, loosed from the long lenses needed to sneak the docudrama shots from HKW, are now able to burrow deep into the faces of their characters, which means a lot of tough, unflinching close-ups of a con man whose ability to seduce his marks makes him queasily compelling. And Pattinson sells that brilliantly. Just listen to the change in his voice and speech pattern when he tells Crystal about the connection they have, just to convince her to stay with the car. Demonic.
But we aren’t the marks here — the Safdies tell us from the jump what Connie is like: the opening scene has him breaking his brother out of a therapy session; literally tearing this young man away from a place that could help him… and later in the film, it’s exaggerated when Connie attempts to break Nick out of an actual hospital. We’re watching one guy in need of help, forever tied to someone who actively deflects said help. The biggest lie Connie tells in a film full of them is to Nick in that opening scene — in the elevator, when he says “I love you.”
And in a nicely subtle subplot of injustice, the Safdies explore just how much punishment people get for trying to be nice. Piling on that is the realization of the fates the film’s two primary black characters at the hands of the police. There’s no good news here, and not much optimism. Once again, they look where the rest of us don’t, and what they find there is a little bit of humanity and a lot of torture. This time around, there’s more of an on-track narrative and fatalistic ending, and maybe one not-so-believable performance (Necro, as Ray’s drug-dealing buddy), but this is still an effective, stinging drama about the dirt under the fingernails that scrape on society’s chalkboard.