This article previously appeared on Crossfader
Directors: Joshua and Benny Safdie
Michael Mann once said that the best way to trap a character in his world is to put a lid on it—and there’s no better lid than the night sky. GOOD TIME is sure to be compared to MEAN STREETS for years to come, but for my money, I’ll remember it as a millennial’s blend of THIEF and TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT. It is a Dardenne film thrown into a Michael Mann pinball machine, the exact reintroduction the world needed to fraternal directors Joshua and Benny Safdie following the release of the critically appreciated, but criminally overlooked HEAVEN KNOWS WHAT. There’s something unashamedly east coast about the two. From the grunge of their neon-dipped, lo-fi filmmaking, to the kinetics of their intimate camerawork, the Safdies understand character, tragedy, structure, and speed like few modern directors. It is for this reason that GOOD TIME is the ultimate A24 product. It’s aggressively bold in its display of young formal talent, and not afraid to get weird. GOOD TIME is 2017’s SWISS ARMY MAN with a few less farts and a hell of a lead performance.
We start with Robert Pattinson and his brother, Benny Safdie, who after botching a bank robbery face time in prison. The catch is that Pattinson isn’t ready to see his mentally handicapped brother wither away in a New York penitentiary, nor is he going to let the law separate the two of them. It’s enough of a compelling inciting incident to kickstart GOOD TIME’s narrative, but the real thrust of the film’s thematics begin to show themselves with Pattinson’s desperation. This is a man who by all accounts is not a good person. He’s abusive, reckless, and dangerous, but we root for him through fraternal instinct alone. Pattinson’s performance is a tour de force of visceral emotive storytelling; the type of show-don’t-tell, one-man-show that you only get once every blue moon. The Safdies mythologize him on screen as a deeply flawed human being, but one who knows one thing that the system does not: nobody can love his brother like him. Whether the film manages to really drive that home in the final scene is debatable—I’d say it does—but there’s certainly a case to be made for the contrary.
A GTA 5-STAR POLICE CHASE
And with that, GOOD TIME really kicks into high gear. This is a film like few others. The type of release that would rock your socks off any year, any place. It moves with the staccato of a drum machine and the nausea of an anxiety attack. We traverse through New York hospitals, amusement parks, and apartment blocks at a breakneck pace, Pattinson always one step ahead of us, but just as insecure—he just doesn’t want to show it. That’s the mastery of GOOD TIME’s construction: it’s a film swept up in its moment-to-moment action like few of its contemporaries. At times, I almost forgot I was watching a narrative film—it’s shockingly potent in its stream-of-consciousness. That doesn’t necessarily register as a huge cinematic contribution; that is, until you see it. There’s a velocity here that feels indicative of an epoch of post-digital storytelling, borrowing all the naturalist qualities of Italian Neorealists, and fusing it with the hyperlink cinema of post-American decay—a stylization that in turn feels deeply indebted to the French New Wave.
It’s all greatly assisted by one of the finest musical contributions of 2017. Oneohtrix Point Never has been an electronic mainstay for years now, but the cinematic qualities of his textured, exciting music really shines a light on the potential of electro-infused filmmaking. It’s an aesthetic choice that has almost been universally relegated to science fiction, and it really finds its home in the abyss of modern day New York as presented here. What that says about our current state of affairs in terms of society, culture, era, and geopolitics is a whole other discussion. What I can say is that the Safdie brothers have honed in the craft of the one-night character piece with laser-sharp precision. This is a motion picture in the most literal sense of the word, and the auditory qualities are very much a key contributing factor.
Criminals sparkle under neon
God bless Stephanie Meyer. Between Pattinson’s more recent contributions to the cinematic landscape and Kristen Stewart’s continuing success as a stalwart of arthouse cinema, I almost find it necessary to deem TWILIGHT an unironic cultural icon. There’s a crisp, oppressive freshness to GOOD TIME that I yearn for in modern motion pictures. The charming cast keeps it from being an endless bummer—although a case could be made that its narrative is arguably one-note—and plot twists hit you like a football player tackling your blindside. Though there’s a moment of incredulity in an otherwise pitch perfect character piece, GOOD TIME really does register as the most invigorating filmmaking of the year thus far. I’ll be surprised if anything this aesthetically flamboyant hits the silver screen this year, but one can hope.