I feel like we need to stop being surprised when actors from disreputable YA adaptations suddenly turn out to be decent actors when given legitimate material to work with. I can’t tell you how many people seemed to be downright gobsmacked when Kristen Stewart, star of the Twilight franchise, managed to win a César Award the second she started working with a respectable director like Olivier Assayas. Maybe if I’d actually seen one of those Twilight movies I’d be similarly impressed with how much she had to climb to get to respectability, but really it just seems unfair to judge someone’s whole acting career when they can’t spin gold from material like that. Her Twilight co-star Robert Pattinson has had similar difficulty getting respect has he’s moved on from that franchise. In many ways he’s in the same position that Leonardo Di Caprio and Ryan Gosling were in recently: forced to prove that he’s a real actor and not just a pretty boy who’s famous because teenage girls swooned at him. In my eyes he’s had a bit of a tough time doing this, in part because some of his first attempts at respectability came from his work in a pair of David Cronenberg movies that didn’t really work and were so weird in tone that they didn’t give Pattinson a lot of room to humanize himself. Outside of that his most prominent roles have been in David Michôd’s The Rover and James Gray’s The Lost City of Z, which both showed some growth but which weren’t quite fully convincing star turns. Of course those were ultimately supporting performances and he has a much bigger showcase in his latest high profile indie Good Time from a pair of upstart directors named Ben and Josh Safdie.
In Good Time Pattinson plays Constantine Nikas, a petty New York criminal who early in the film tries to rob a bank alongside his mentally handicapped brother Nick (Ben Safdie), but the two are captured in the process. Constantine makes bail but Nick doesn’t and Constantine soon finds he isn’t able to obtain the funds to get Nick out from his upper middle class girlfriend Corey (Jennifer Jason Leigh) as he planned. When he learns that Nick has been beat up in jail and transferred to a hospital Constantine comes up with a scheme to break his brother out of his hospital room, and much of the rest of the film looks at how the aftermath of this plot plays out over the course of a single crazy night in New York.
Good Time is a bit reminiscent of Jeremy Saulnier’s Blue Ruin in that it’s a crime narrative that follows a criminal who’s kind of bad at his job but not so bad that he fails right away. Unlike that movie, the protagonist isn’t a guy who’s been pushed to the edge by actual wrongs against him but is in fact a total bag of dicks with very little in the way of redeeming qualities. I’m trying to put my finger on what it is about this guy that I despise so much but I was really disgusted by him. It’s not that his actions are all that horrible, at least by the standards of movie gangsters. He doesn’t kill or (successfully) rape anyone over the course of the movie and he doesn’t exactly go out of his way to hurt anyone. I think what gets my goat about him is the total indifference he shows towards everyone else around him with the possible exception of his brother. He’s like a sociopath who doesn’t feel compelled to kill necessarily but who will take hurt, cheat, or swindle anyone who gets in his way and gets downright offended whenever they resist. He doesn’t really seem to be a “product of his surroundings” and doesn’t really have some twisted noble end he’s working towards, and the real kicker is that you can tell his plans are probably doomed and that he’s probably not even going to get much out of these schemes himself, it all just seems futile.
The film was directed by a pair of upcoming sibling directors named the Safdie brothers, whose previous project was a film called Heaven Knows What, which looked at the rather hellish life of a drug addict. I didn’t really think the Safdie’s penitent for stylization really worked well for that movie and I especially thought that film’s Tangerine Dream style synch score by Paul Grimstad and Ariel Pink seemed especially out of place. That directorial style and the not dissimilar score by Oneohtrix Point Never make a bit more sense here given that the film has more genre elements than Heaven Knows What did and I do think they’ve improved a bit between movies and benefit from the film’s increased budget. In fact I worry that they may have swung too far in the other direction. This is a movie that walks and talks like a hard edged gritty movie with a lot to say about modern crime, but I’m not really sure that it has much of anything to say. At times it will hint towards some kind of societal failure in the lives of these people but these things never really connect and the movie ultimately feels kind of pointless both as a statement and as a story. After a night long romp the characters end up in the same place as they began and not in a way that’s particularly profound either. Frankly I think the Safdie’s would do well for themselves if they’d just sell out and make something for Hollywood because making these hard edged indies doesn’t really suit them. Still, I don’t want to come down too hard on this, it is a crime yarn that’s ultimately fun to watch and there are some well rendered scenes.