TELLING a tale of love and life against a dramatic foreground of passion and domestic turmoil, the screenplay for this 1950s melodrama may remind filmgoers of the plays of major American 20th-century dramatists – think […]
SPENDING 17 minutes setting up its message before the opening credits roll, “Good Time” is the work of co-directors the brothers Benny and Josh Safdie.
Josh also co-wrote with Ronald Bronstein. Benny plays the younger of two New York brothers who spend those 17 minutes trying to elude the cops after a bank heist that went phut.
While “Good Time” begins with a crime, that’s not the gravamen of its subsequent focus. Rather, it’s a sociological examination of bottom feeders in a community where poverty rules, intellect has never intruded, emotion arises only when self-interest is challenged, violence is a natural part of life and lawbreaking is as normal as breathing.
After its 101 minutes runtime, my companion wondered what audience it was most seeking to reach. I opined that what I’d seen was a message movie reminding young people that lawbreaking is a poor career choice. But I wondered how many young people have enough smarts to get that message from a film that never lets up sending it.
Older brother Connie (a powerful performance from Robert Pattinson) spends the night trying to raise a bail bond to get younger brother Nick out of jail. Connie is terrified that confinement among real bad guys awaiting arraignment will be more than Nick’s autism can cope with.
Bottom line is that both brothers are born losers. Connie rushes among the city’s lower orders whose possibility of lending him $15,000 matches his own – zip, nada, zilch. The screenplay presents those characters forthrightly, reasonably, credibly, non-judgmentally. And unremittingly hopelessly. The supporting performances are first rate.
The film’s images, mostly up-close and uncomfortable, reflect Connie’s obsession. The soundtrack is jangly, repetitive, scratchy. The lighting is garish even in darkness. The coarse-to-the-max vocabulary verges on illiterate. The pace is frenetic. The violence is brutally graphic.
Connie’s motivation, generated by panic mixed with concern for his disabled brother, never wavers. If “Good Time” has one meritorious element, that’s it.