Friday, August 25, 2017

Good Time

Posted By on Fri, Aug 25, 2017 at 4:20 AM

In film, New York is a land of myth. Its architecture, which operates on both a human and inhuman scale, makes it endlessly photogenic. The contrast between the penthouse dwellers and the densely packed slums provides plenty of opportunity for conflict and exploration of character, as does the endlessly diverse population. From Gold Diggers of 1933 to The Godfather, New York has been a place where the line between heroes and villains blurs.
click to enlarge Robert Pattison in Good Time
  • Robert Pattison in Good Time

Good Time, directed by brothers Ben and Josh Safdie, is the latest story to use The City That Never Sleeps as a backdrop for an amorality play. Robert Pattison stars as Connie, a wise guy getting a little long in the tooth. His brother Nick is mentally handicapped. The film open with Nick, played by director Ben Safdie, in the midst of a therapy session with a kindly psychiatrist (newcomer Peter Verby), when Connie bursts in and rudely pulls his brother out to go rob a bank. Connie’s ostensible motive is to gain a new life, better life for him and his brother. As Nick (who has more than a little bit of Lennie Small from Of Mice and Men in him) says, they want to go live in the country and do anything they want. A noble goal to be sure, but not one that Connie’s level of planning is likely to accomplish. The two brothers make one rookie mistake after another. Once Nick gets nicked by the NYPD, Connie’s goal changes from getting away with the money to getting his brother out of jail to just getting out of this mess alive.

Good Time is not so much a heist film as it is a dive into New York’s underground cultures that hide in plain sight, like Something Wild or After Hours. As Connie’s situations spiral out of control, we get a tour of some of the most depressing parts of New York: Riker’s Island, various trauma and psych wards, and a bail bondsman’s office. Pattison once again confirms he’s not just a pretty boy vampire actor with an impressively controlled performance as a guy who is in too far over his head to even recognize how screwed he is. Pattison is operating in the same space Humphrey Bogart pioneered in Treasure of the Sierra Madre: The character who, at first glance, looks like a charming rogue, but in fact is a narcissistic villain, and a screw up to boot.. Everything he touches turns bad, and once the pattern is established, Good Time becomes an inventory of people whose lives he has or will ruin. The sad eyed Safdie drift impassively from one disaster to the next. Jennifer Jason Leigh pops with an extended cameo as Connie’s soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend. Sixteen year old first-timer Talliah Webster is a young innocent who gets sucked up into the horror show and then tossed aside when she becomes inconvenient. Barkhad Abdi, who played the pirate chief in Captain Phillips, has a fabulously empathetic turn as a doomed security guard.

The Safdie Brothers succeed on the terms they set for themselves. Like the revisionist westerns of the 1970s, it takes the conflicted heroes of gangster films and shows them in a different, less flattering light. For me, Good Time is a film whose relentlessly punishing aesthetic and execution I can admire, but not necessarily love.

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