Thursday, August 24, 2017

'Good Time' takes propulsive flight

Brimming with propulsive energy and full of domineering close-ups, Good Time comes across as a strange hybrid, a movie that blends the frenzy of Road Runner cartoons with the lives of characters living on society's shadowy margins.

This adrenalized movie about a couple of guys who botch a robbery may be about the ways in which movies can get in your face and stay there. At times exhilarating and at times overbearing, Good Time never backs off, which can make watching it akin to the experience of being unable to escape a conversation you're not always sure you want to have.

Directors Josh and Benny Safdie come across as unashamed proponents of the cinema of immediacy; the Safdies' characters are pushed through panic-fueled flight in a race to avoid capture, an old story but one viewed through a jangled urban lens.

Robert Pattinson, who rose to prominence in the Twilight series, continues to demonstrate that he has significant acting ability by playing small-time crook Connie Nikas.

Early on, Connie ropes his mentally challenged brother (portrayed by Benny Safdie) into joining him for a bank robbery. A wily bank teller outsmarts this masked duo by inserting a dye pack into their haul of cash. When the pack explodes, the brothers are marked by paint and doomed to run.

Battered in jail after being arrested, Nick winds up in a hospital: Connie, who's still running, attempts to spring his brother. Whether Connie does this out of love or out of fear that his brother, lacking in larcenous wiles, will spill the beans, remains an open question.

Before that, Connie tries to raise bail money with his girlfriend (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a woman who evidently has been pulled into Connie's dangerous orbit before.

The movie's great gimmicky twist introduces us to Ray (Buddy Duress), a man newly released from prison. Never mind how the movie works Ray into the story. That's something to be discovered in a theater and it helps give the movie some comic edge.

While seeking refuge from the police, Connie hides out with a Haitian woman and her teenage granddaughter (Taliah Webster). Connie uses and betrays Webster's character, but also shows flickers of genuine concern for her. Street-smart, but inexperienced, Webster's Crystal can't keep up with Connie's manipulations.

Lest we mistake Connie for a lovable goofball, the Safdies show him brutally beating an amusement park security guard (Barkhad Abdi) who discovers Connie and Ray's intrusion into the park where they're searching for a hidden stash of drugs and money.

It's not the only time the Safdies make you wonder whether they've gone a little too far.

I don't know if Pattinson is improvising, but he creates the illusion of a character who's entire approach to life is improvisational. Connie doesn't plan; he reacts and relies on his instincts.

Duress adds humor as a guy too dim and drunk to avoid trouble. Duress's Ray is motivated by a desire to celebrate his recent release from prison, a place he doesn't wish to revisit. You don't need to be a seer to know that Ray's evening won't end well.

With the skilled help of cinematographer Sean Price Williams, the Safdies give their movie kinetic life that seems to be spring right from their nerve endings.

What they can't do is make us -- or at least me -- root for Connie's redemption, and they sometimes left me wondering as Pauline Kael did at one point in her contrarian review of Martin Scorsese's Raging Bull: "What am I doing here watching these two dumb f...ks?". (Jake LaMotta and his brother Joey.)

I didn't agree with Kael about Raging Bull, but after her review, I began to look for a genre you might call "dumb f...k" movies, if I may borrow the New Yorker's ellipsis. I'm not talking stupid comedies, but films with serious aspirations.

Compelling and impressive as it can be, Good Time left me mulling whether it shouldn't be tagged with a little bit of that label.

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