Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Fri Aug 18, 2017 5:33 pm 
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Robert Pattinson's Outward Bound Movie experience

The Safdie brothers' rigorously grim and realistically chaotic new movie Good Time, whose title is definitely ironic, for one thing is further proof Robert Pattinson, like his "Twilight" co-megastar Kristen Stewart, is a solid actor with serious acting cred. And this time he subjects himself to unglamourous, down-and-dirty action, providing further proof of his commitment to building chops and taking raw challenges from directors he admires. Of course it needs to be more than that, and Pattinson shouldn't need another calling card. Just as Kristen Stewart has played in films by Woody Allen, Olivier Assayas, Ang Lee, and Kelly Reichardt, Pattinson has had roles in films by the Australian, David Michôd, David Cronenberg (Cosmopolis, for my money, the best yet), Anton Corbijn, Brady Corbet, and most recently James Gray. But this shows perhaps a bit more humility. This is a very unflattering role. In beard, with earring, shabby clothes, and greasy hair, Pattinson roams the boroughs of New York City deep under cover, far from any movie glamour. His character loves his sibling and is good with dogs, but he's stupid and unwise and perhaps a bigot. Quite a change from Don De Lillo's Cosmopolis, about a brilliant young billionaire cruising the city in a limousine.

The Safdies make it hard on themselves and their crew and on us. As I said after their 2009 feature debut, Daddy Longlegs, they "don't do calm." The blistering soundtrack, shaky camera, and super-closeups left me reeling here. I've barely figured out if this is a good movie or just a wearing one. But I think it's good. And surely through the night of confusion and disaster it depicts, Robert Pattinson's charisma shines with a pure light. By being pushed to the bone, he shows what he's got. It is surprising that the movie, a first for the Safdie brothers, has gotten wide distribution. But in its brutal and vernacular way this is a crime thriller with a big star.


Clearly a Safdie specialty is irresponsibility toward family members and the ones you love. This begins with two brothers, of Greek parents. Connie Nikas (Pattinson) rescues his mentally challenged younger sibling Nick (co-director and editor Ben Safdie) from a psychiatrist who has made him cry, only to take him along on a bank robbery. Not exactly a calming, or protective, situation. Wearing masks, they come away indeed with a bag of money, but it explodes in the taxi, and red dye splatters all over everything. Only a little of the money remains usable, and is needed to bail out Nick, when he gets arrested. But after Connie has partially paid a bail bondsman, Nick, who is big and very emotionally unstable, has been transferred up at Elmhurst Hospital Prison Ward. Connie is successful in sneaking him out - except that he turns out to have rescued the wrong guy.

Along the way there are scenes with Jennifer Jason Leigh, as a whiny girlfriend whose mother's credit cards he wants to use to pay off the bail bondsman; with Ray (Buddy Duress), the drunken, manic guy he has accidentally sprung from Elmhurst; and dodging cops and security guards at an amusement park, Adventureland in Long Island. This is the most intense kind of vérité filmmaking, with a big star who's selflessly invested in the action and never seems like a star slumming. Good Time is clearly a worthwhile collaboration for both star and filmmakers. With it the Safdie brothers move out of indie style into genre without compromising a bit. One doesn't expect them to do something easier and more accessible next time, only something equally bold that will get as much or more attention.

But Good Time will appeal only to the hardier viewer. This leaves you feeling battered. It shows you convincingly, as a participant, what being in desperate circumstances is like. But all we really learn for sure is that once you get into them, you may be well and truly stuck. A.O. Scott of the Times sees ugliness and exploitation here. That seems excessively judgmental, and he may be overlooking that this is a young men's movie - but it's far from a fun watch. Anthony Lane of The New Yorker found much to admire in the film and the star, finding this "a major stride forward" for the Safdies that "aches with a neon glow," claims not unjustified, if you hold your ears against the grating soundtrack.

Good Time, 100 mins., debuted 25 May 2017 in Competition at Cannes; ten other festivals including Sydney, Melbourne and Locarno. Wide release in the US 25 Aug. 2017. Screened at AMC Metreon San Francisco 18 Aug. 2017. Metascore 80%.


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