In theory, I should be all over the Safdie Brothers’ Good Time that premiered this morning at the 70th Festival de Cannes. It features a strong performance from the criminally underrated Robert Pattinson. The music by Oneohtrix Point Never (Daniel Lopatin) is a pumping electronic score that’s memorable almost to a fault. Visually, the Sadfie’s bring out the best in cinematographer Sean Price Williams (and likely vice versa) and they once again display their unique talent for casting non-professional actors seen in their last film, Heaven Knows What, to dramatic effect. And yet, there is something about this gritty thriller that doesn’t completely add up.
The film begins with Nick (co-director Ben Safdie), a mentally impaired adult struggling through a tense therapy session. As the psychiatrist (Peter Verby, “street casting”) asks his opinion on simple every day sayings such as “the squeaky wheel gets the grease” Nick becomes more and more agitated. Their discussion awkwardly ends after Nick’s brother, Connie (Pattinson), puts a stop to the session and pulls Nick out of the office.
It’s not clear why Connie thinks he needs Nick to accompany him on his bank robbery, but it’s an obvious mistake the audience can see a mile away. Nick can barely make it through the hold up without creating a scene and almost becomes incapacitated after they dye pack explodes in their get away car (an admittedly fun visual). Following an extended footrace Nick is easily captured by the police while Connie wonders what to do next. And what he ends up doing is one act of desperation after another.
As Connie tries to figure out how to bail his brother out while avoiding the authorities now on his tail (it’s been a while since cable network NY1 has gotten so much screen time) Nick’s disability quickly gets him in the middle of an unnecessary drama and a trip to a local hospital. Despite convincing or duping (take your pick) his lady friend Corey (Jennifer Jason Leigh, practically a cameo) to put up part of Nick’s bail Connie learns about his transfer and incredulously decides to break him out while he’s still in police custody.
Despite our misgivings we won’t spoil much after that. There are two noteworthy performances, however that deserves mention including that of Ray (Buddy Deress, real life former convict turned actor), a recent parolee and Crystal (Taliah Webster), a 16-year-old (or is she?) girl who each become entangled in Connie’s increasingly impetuous attempt to free his brother. Both actors bring an authenticity the film needs as it dives through one preposterous plot point after another (this point should be read bolded and underlined).
Pattinson certainly doesn’t have it easy as Connie. His character is a parasite whose only redeeming value is his love for his brother. How he finds the subtle nuances to even suggest he’s more than that is all sorts of remarkable even if those trumpeting his work here as a career best are overlooking his stellar turn in The Rover.
Despite his best efforts, however, Pattinson can’t make Connie truly sympathetic. That doesn’t always matter but in this context, Connie’s urgency in saving his brother from prison, it’s a necessary emotion to keep you engaged in the roller coaster the Safdie’s have constructed. And once a very minor twist is revealed it’s enough to sap up any almost all of the tension the Safdie’s were trying to create in the first place. You simply may not care about what happens to the film’s “hero” at this point.
It goes without saying that the film does have style. The Safdie Brothers are obviously talented enough to stage some unique chases (one from a bird’s eye view late in the picture is a welcome surprise) and the depiction of a struggling class of New Yorkers fighting through the legal, mental or medical bureaucracies is relevant. As noted, the performances are for the most part captivating. And, yet, the end result just leaves you wanting more and for all the wrong reasons.
Good Time opens in limited release on August 11th.