Good Time (Benny Safdie/Josh Safdie, 2017) 3 out of 4 stars.
Filled with striking images, excitingly disorienting action sequences and strong performances, Good Times – the new film from the Safdie brothers (Heaven Knows What) – is in many ways a marvel of independent, low-budget filmmaking. Kinetic and bold, the movie stakes a definite place among modern crime thrillers, and is narratively engrossing throughout its 100 minutes. At the end, however, we are left with a feeling of almost profound emptiness, as if from a brief sugar high bereft of real nourishment. There is not much there there, as entertaining as the movie may be.
A fully committed (and excellent) Robert Pattinson (The Lost City of Z) plays Connie, older brother to Nick (played by co-director Benny) – a young man with clear developmental issues – and as the film begins he barges into little bro’s therapy session to haul him off to a bank robbery. It’s too bad, we think, since we were just starting to approach a story of trauma, but then the robbery, itself (initially successful, then later a fiasco) grabs our full attention. Nick is caught, thrown in jail, and for the rest of the movie Connie does his utmost to get him out. One bad decision leads to another, and so on and so forth. Each misadventure ups the adrenaline ante, and the Safdies keep it moving with dynamic wide overhead shots and jittery close-ups.
But of what is it all in service? Who are these guys and why should we care about them? That is the primary dramatic question that the clearly talented directing duo (working off a script by Ronald Bronstein and co-director Josh) fail to adequately tackle. We get that they’re down and out – as are the many incidental folks they encounter – and we feel their desperation, but beyond that there is nothing to ground us in the grand stakes of their minor ambitions. Still, the ride is a fun (if violent) one, and the powerful supporting cast – which includes Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight), Barkhad Abdi (Eye in the Sky) and newcomer Taliah Webster – makes even the most underwritten characters stand out. A good, if not great, time is had.