It’s been a strong year for independent cinema. While many of the big studio projects over the summer fell far short of expectations before IT showed up and broke all kinds of records, there’s been a steady stream of indie fare that’s delivered both quality films and surprising returns at the box office. Not of all those movies ascended to the heights of The Big Sick, which made an incredible 10-to-1 return on its $5-million budget, but that’s more the exception than the rule. Good Time was never going break the box office or set any records. Nonetheless, it’s a very well made, quality film which will garner recognition as awards season draws near.
This project was unmistakably a labor of love by the Safdie brothers, Benny and Josh. As independent filmmakers and native New Yorkers, there was an incredible amount of personality they were able to bring to the story and its characters. For those who likely have no idea what this movie is about, it centers around a pair of brothers, Connie and Nick Nikas, who unsuccessfully rob a bank and end up running from the cops. When Nick is arrested, Connie begins an unpredictable mission to free his brother from the notorious Riker’s Island prison in a single night. If it sounds like too much for a single night, it is.
However, the film’s success (more or less) hinged on Robert Pattinson. Not monetarily, although his name likely generated far more interest in this project, but if he wasn’t believable then the rest falls apart. After all, he was still most identifiable as the heartthrob in those tween vampire movies. To his credit he jumped in with both feet on this one and managed not to drown under the immense pressure of playing a New Yorker, especially being directed by a renowned NY duo like the Safdie brothers. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Pattinson confessed to sending “crazy obsessive” emails to the pair, practically begging to work with them on the project and his passion for the project is obvious once you’ve seen the final product. It’s transformative. A gritty portrayal in an even grittier world. Connie isn’t a likeable character, but by completely immersing himself in the role and the culture, he delivered a captivating performance that should redefined his career. There is a very short list of names legitimately in consideration for Oscar contention when it comes to Best Actor this year, but Pattinson’s is on there now. The directing duo should get some consideration for their work as well, but I get the feeling they will be on the outside looking in. Either way, they will be a hot commodity in the industry and I’m excited to see what they do next.
The amazing, heart pounding original score by Oneohtrix Point Never (Daniel Lopatin) was paramount in pushing the tempo. It’s intensely psychedelic, reflecting a lot of the character’s internal trepidation. Reminiscent of a videogame soundtrack in the early 90s, the electronic elements really heighten the unique timbre and push the film’s thriller elements to the forefront. Not surprisingly, he won the soundtrack award at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival and should likely be nominated for his work come awards season.
Pacing is something that often gets overlooked when making a film, but the Safdie brothers did a nice job moving things along and it doesn’t feel as long as the 99-minute runtime would suggest. Much of that is due to a great script by Ronald Bronstein and Josh Safdie. The pair had worked together before on Heaven Knows What and Daddy Longlegs, so they know what works stylistically for them. The dialogue throughout the film is snappy and to the point without ever feeling like too much of a good thing and there’s a natural, authentic flow to everything on screen. Additionally, the cinematography by Sean Price Williams fits right in with the quick pace and matches the erratic and frantic nature of the plot. In particular, there’s car scene shot from a helicopter which just brings this deliciously familiar reality. His work on Marjorie Prime was completely different stylistically, much more static, and his ability to tap into the emotional core of the source material and adjust accordingly speaks volumes of his craftsmanship.
Along with strong production elements apparent throughout the film, there were key supporting roles which gave the film more than just one leg to stand on. At the forefront of those was Buddy Duress in the role of Ray, a small time crook whose fate becomes tragically intertwined with the main characters. He had worked with the Safdie brothers prior, on Heaven Knows What, and is a lot of fun to watch while he’s on screen just oozing New York. This whole film shifts to follow him down an unexpected, tangential path and it’s wonderfully bizarre. Jennifer Jason Leigh is the most veteran member of the cast and her presence helped to bring legitimacy to the project. The Oscar nominated actress was very good and looked to be having a blast in a role that likely doesn’t come her way too often anymore. Benny Safdie also joined the cast and he had one of the most important roles because the film is mostly devoid of a moral compass. It was critical for Safdie to win the audience and provide the only sympathetic character, which he did and then some.
Without any characters to really cheer for, you’re left to sit back and watch as things gradually spin further and further out of control. It’s a different direction for a thriller that I haven’t really seen before, but the results speak for themselves. This isn’t a film that celebrates its regularity, rather it amplifies the seemingly normal and elevates it to something spectacular. It’s easily one of the best films of the year and a fresh take on a genre that needed some new blood. Don’t be surprised to see Good Time nominated for Best Picture at the end of 2017.
Recommendation: Do yourself a favor and go check this film out if you can. For fans of the filmmaking process, there’s a lot to enjoy and for the average moviegoer there’s Robert Pattinson like you’ve never seen him before. It may be a little hard to find in theaters, but keep a look out.