Robert Pattinson adds yet another left field role to his post-vampire resume with Ben and Joshua Safdie’s Good Time. He leads the film well, it’s just a shame the rest of the chaotic thriller can’t keep up.
The tone’s off from the opening frame, as the camera swoops towards a high-rise building in Manhattan. It looks like something out of a Christopher Nolan Batman film. This is followed by a therapy scene reminiscent of the Voight-Kampff test that follows the Hades landscape shots at the beginning of Blade Runner, but this is no blockbuster sci-fi.
A wispy-haired psychiatrist asks questions of Nick (Benny Safdie), a bulky guy with learning difficulties. The psychiatrist’s gentle questioning brings up some uncomfortable memories for Nick, but their session is soon interrupted when his disapproving brother Connie (Pattinson) bursts in and drags Nick out the door.
The Of Mice and Men-like duo then team up for a bank robbery, but things don’t go to plan and Nick is taken into custody. Connie will do anything to get his brother back and, when the bail doesn’t come together, he scouts out the hospital where Nick is being kept.
Good Time plays like little more than a direct-to-video thriller. And, as with the most chaotic of those films, the Safdies crowbar in attempts at social relevance — in this case, regarding society’s treatment of those living with learning difficulties. The approach never really lands, despite them returning to the issue throughout, and it just comes across as muddled and insincere.
The film does sometimes avoid taking the conventional route, but that only results in lackluster action sequences. When the opening robbery plays out, for example, it seems as if the police won’t show and Connie and Nick will get away scot-free. Then, when the brothers are at a seemingly safe distance, sirens start up. There’s no tension in this moment. By not cross-cutting to a police dispatch or moving away from Connie and Nick’s contained geographical sphere in any way, a possibly exciting moment is suddenly devoid of any thrills.
The incessant score is also a real problem. It cascades along like the amped up synths of a 1980s action thriller (almost to the point of parody). There’s no pulse or crescendo, just endless, deafening noise. Tiring scenes in which characters talk over each other exacerbate the cacophony.
The Safdie’s waste the talents of cinematographer Sean Price Williams, who shoots in his preferred celluloid film format (35mm, in this case). The neon colors stand out, but the framing is too tight and the focus is so shallow that it becomes nauseating and claustrophobic.
Aside from a 16-year-old girl Connie meets on this tumultuous evening, played confidently by newcomer Taliah Webster, the female characters are presented in an almost exclusively negative light. Oft lamented but ultimately given little screen time, female maternal figures are demonized and presented as hysterical, abusive burdens. Connie lives under the self-proclaimed curse of mothers, grandmothers and girlfriends. However, the Safdies don’t offer much sense of these women’s stories and present few examples of horrendous treatment.
The film’s one saving grace is Pattinson, and his committed performance sees him fully inhabit Connie’s rat-like hunch. His hair is matted and left to flop over his bearded face, and an earring glistens in the neon surroundings. He looks palpably dirty, and his nervy disposition is just as likely to freak people out as it is to help him think on his feet. But, ultimately, a strong Robert Pattinson performance is let down by this blundering thriller that’s an assault on the senses and the mind.
Benedict Seal (@benedictseal) is a UK-based film journalist for the likes of Bloody Disgusting, VODzilla.co and New On Netflix.