Good Time Review: The Long, Winding Road to Empathy

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What do the bowels of modern society look like? Good Time reaches into our all-too-comfy elitist psyches for the answer, and proceeds to display a story about them that’s as authentic as it is immersive. As with their previous film, 2014’s exceptional Heaven Knows What, directing brothers Ben and Josh Safdie have taken our perception of the people we avoid on public transit and injected it with a powerful dose of honest empathy—a lot of times through close-ups in unflattering lighting.

The film opens on Nick (Ben Safdie, proving capable in front of the camera as well) getting psychiatric treatment in downtown Manhattan. The doctor sitting in front of him talks to him like a child, but he doesn’t respond like a child. One question prompts a tear to roll down his cheek, as an intense closeup quietly but firmly grabs us by the collar and draws us into a world most indie cinema goers never have to experience. The session is interrupted by Nick’s brother, Connie (Robert Pattinson, not just better than ever, truly and significantly terrific). The two leave against the doctor’s wishes and almost immediately rob a bank. The only problem is that it’s 2017, and banks have gotten pretty good at stopping folks from doing just that. Nick gets arrested and taken to Rikers while Connie gets away, sending him on an insane quest across the unseen nooks and crannies of New York’s five boroughs on a goal that changes depending on who he’s talking to.

That’s where Robert Pattinson comes in, selling us on every micro expression Connie expresses. Who’s he going to harm on his mission for money? If he succeeds, will he try to bail out his brother, or will he run? Pattinson makes us believe Connie wants to do it all, but that even he doesn’t know what he’d do if he succeeds. The wild ride to answer these questions is incredibly manic, jumping from episode to episode with  very little sense of progression. This is intentional, reflecting Connie as a downtrodden figure of society who’s gone so long without catching a break that he’s now trying to force his way into one. Through this, the real question becomes whether he’ll learn to take responsibility for his actions?

This journey of desperation and self-preservation necessarily trades off between intense sadness and being a blatant comedy of errors. Several times throughout the film, a tragedy presents itself so ridiculously that laughing is the only real release from deep sorrow. Much like the societal pillars in place, the story is cruel to its characters, which helps us to see reason in their complicated decisions without condoning them. It’s a fine line to walk, but one the film confidently struts across because it seemingly can.

Until the ending, that is. The difficult scenarios of Good Time have little payoff for Connie. Without getting into spoilers, his journey is given a swift pause just moments before the end credits roll. We’re left with characters who refused to change but that we still deeply care about, forcing the audience to wrestle with their emotions more than the writers purport a meaning to it all. But Connie doesn’t change in the same way that we don’t change our view of the people on the streets who look like him, giving way to an endless cycle of a human race that just continues to let itself down. Stories featuring characters like those in Good Time are necessary because of our inability to listen and feel. It’s as necessary for us to see them as it is for them to recognize themselves here and know that at least some people like us know their story. But until hope emerges, we’re just going to see the same bleak ending over and over again. And yet, for those willing to absorb this story, Good Time is a work that’ll change the way you look at people walking down a busy street. Grade: A-

By Matt Dougherty

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