' ' Cinema Romantico: Good Time

Monday, September 11, 2017

Good Time

“Good Time” opens with Nick (Benny Safdie), stricken with a speech impediment and learning disability, meeting with a kind-hearted psychiatrist (Peter Verby). After a few questions cause Nick to shed a tear, possibly cracking an internal code, the door is thrown open and Nick’s brother Connie (Robert Pattinson) bursts in and drag Nick out, disparaging the psychiatrist, insistent that brother knows best. In this moment, however, Connie is not simply hijacking his own flesh and blood but hijacking “Good Time” itself. Not for nothing does the movie begin and end with Nick while everything in-between, more or less, centers on Connie, underlined by the ferocious, literally in-their-face camera work in which nearly every damn shot, dialogue driven or action oriented, is queasily up close and personal. Connie is in your space all the time, oblivious to what you might want, only intent on what he needs, and what he needs is essentially based moment to moment. This insistent selfishness is why Connie enlists his brother in an armed bank robbery that swiftly goes awry and ends with Nick locked up in Rikers Island and Connie on the lam. And in his paradoxical heart, rather than abandoning his bro, Connie sets off into the New York night to try and collect $10,000 to spring Nick on bail.

Though “Good Time” bears obvious structural similarities to Martin Scorsese’s “After Hours”, the latter was more comically nihilist, where the nighttime proves as bizarrely devoid of hope as the daytime. The former, on the other hand, while occasionally nastily comic, particularly when Connie finds himself, for reasons too convoluted to explain, in the company of a motor-mouthed, just-sprung con named Paul (Buddy Duress), is more rooted to its main character’s narcissism. That’s because the universe conspires against the protagonist of “After Hours”, while Connie expects the universe and those within it to meet him on his terms, glimpsed time and again, in actions as little as absconding with someone else’s hair dye and in Pattinson’s razor sharp performance seething with a terrifying entitlement. He is allowed one scene late in the proceedings to kind of explicate this out loud, but it is better glimpsed in the way he carries himself, where even if his character might be an armed thief and an obvious con man, Pattinson, as if singing in harmony with his character’s earrings, emits an odd air of deluded courtliness.

He will go to any length to try and get his brother out, without ever pausing to ruminate on how he put his brother there in the first place, and to go to any length, he will screw over absolutely anyone, like his hazily defined girlfriend Corey (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Though she’s hardly in the movie, her character cuts a memorable, tragic figure, introduced with her mother looming over her shoulder, not in a domineering kind of way but out of omnipresent concern, which becomes that much more clear when Leigh’s frazzled performance hints at a humongous backstory, particularly when she breaks down sobbing in the bail bondsman’s office, which she lends not so much pathos as the whiny distress of an overgrown child. And even if you wish she had more screen time, her early exit merely underlines how quickly Connie will move on from people who have no use to him.

That goes for anyone in Connie’s path, like a black woman who lets Connie into her home where he proceeds to quietly run roughshod, enlisting her 17 year old granddaughter, Crystal (Taliah Webster), in his harebrained schemes, not to mention the amusement park security guard (Barkhad Abdi) who inadvertently runs afoul of Connie when he and Paul turn up in the dead of the night to try and find some loot that may or not be waiting. Abdi has even less screen time than Leigh and, for all intents and purposes, gets no real dialogue only to still carve out a true blue performance, a grunt exuding underpaid frustration that gives way to confused terror when he becomes mistaken for the criminal.

His skin color, like Crystal’s, like the color of the masks that Connie and Nick wear when they pull their robbery, are not inadvertently insensitive but the point, bringing home how blithely the white Connie takes advantage. It is worth stating that the prisoners surrounding Nick at Rikers Island are predominantly black and simply portrayed as volatile and violent, but these simple portrayals also point toward a society presuming they should be there, while the white Nick remains, to our eyes, above suspicion.

Though a movie like this might seemingly set up for Connie’s redemption or a lesson learned, well, at the risk of spoiling it, forget about it. One of the few shots forgoing a close-up of Connie is toward the end, the camera watching him run from above, as if the universe is finally passing its judgment, a judgment to which he remains oblivious. And when the camera finally re-finds him in close-up, it presses in and in and in, fiercely, so that we can explicitly see the whites of his eyes. Look at those eyes, look closely, and you’ll see…..nothing’s there.

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