There’s a certain sub-genre of crime movies that flourished in the seventies and eighties, and that’s been having a hell of resurgence lately, and that I’m quite fond of. I think it’s typically referred to as a neon-noir, but I like to think of it as dirtbag noir. They’re the types of films you’ll see about the shittiest people imaginable, usually living in New York, and committing crimes all at night, bathed in neon-light. Michael Mann is kind of the patron saint of this genre, but there are dozens of other movies that easily fit into this genre. And, thankfully, it seems like it’s starting to come back. We’ve given up on the Disneyfication of big cities, and are feeling more comfortable to release gritty and grimy crime dramas that take place in the inner cities again, and I for one love it. Seeing a cast of dirtbags race around the streets at night, trying to get one over on each other can be extremely entertaining when handled properly. And today we get to talk about one stuch film, because we’ve been given a truly memorable entry to the dirtbag noir genre, along with a career-best performance from Robert Pattinson, Good Time.
Good Time tells the story of a man named Constantine “Connie” Nikas. And he’s the absolute worst. Connie is an aimless criminal who seems to think only of himself. He takes care of his mentally handicapped brother Nick, but really only seems interested in keeping Nick to himself, and away from any of the doctors and resources who are trying to help him. He’s also in some sort of relationship with an unbalanced older woman named Corey, who he just uses for her mothers money. He’s told Corey that the two are going to go on a fancy trip though, after convincing Nick to help him rob a bank. And it actually goes pretty well. They manage to get the money they need, without any fuss, and flee into the city, hoping to slip away unseen. However, the bank was able to slip an ink-pack into their duffel bag full of money, and it goes off, covering Nick and Connie in ink. They then have to make a mad-dash through the city, trying to stay away from the police. And, they actually manage to do it. They get most of the ink off and change their clothes. But, as they’re heading home some police officers ask the brothers to stop, and Nick panics. He runs off, beginning a chase between the brothers and the police, that ends up Nick accidentally running through a plate-glass window and being captured. Nick is then arrested and brought to Rikers Island, where he almost immediately gets in a fight with a fellow prisoner and has to be taken to a hospital.
With his brother taken Connie suddenly realizes he needs to put all of his other plans on hold, and gets to work trying to save him. Unfortunately the money they got from the bank isn’t enough to afford the bail money for Nick, and Corey is unable to get the rest of the money from her mother. So, Connie decides to do something stupid. He goes to the hospital, sneaks past the police, and breaks his highly bandaged brother out of the hospital. He manages to sneak his brother onto an Access-a-Ride, and then talks his way into temporarily hanging out in the house of an older woman who was also on the bus. Connie then waits in the house, seducing the extremely young girl who lives there to keep her quiet, when something horrible happens. The man he took from the hospital wakes up, and it’s not Nick. It’s another criminal who has ended up in the hospital that day, and he is not pleased with Connie breaking him out of police custody. But he also doesn’t want to go back to jail, so Connie and this man, Ray, agree to help each other. Because it just so happens that Ray was arrested shortly after seeing some acquaintances of his stash some stolen money and a bottle full of LSD in an amusement park, and Ray is willing to split the money with Connie if he helps him break into the park. So the two head into the park, beat up and drug the security guard, before only finding the acid. This still works for Connie, who sets up a plan with Ray to sell the acid and use the money to free Nick. Things fall apart though when Ray and Connie start fighting, and the police end up being called. So, having failed at everything else that night, Connie is finally arrested, and admits to everything, getting Nick released from prison, and sent to some sort of group-home.
This is a hypnotically ugly film. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a film with a group of protagonists this unlikable, and yet, you cant’ help but be completely drawn up into Connie’s quest and root for him. And a lot of that is helped by the truly remarkable performance that Robert Pattinson puts into this film. The guy gets a lot of flak for his role in the abysmal Twilight movies, but he’s really been trying to rehabilitate himself lately, and this film really seems to be a mission statement from him, promising that he’s putting that part of his life behind him and now wants to fully throw himself into his roles. Connie Nikas is a truly despicable character, but he’s an incredibly believable one. All of the other actors in the film also put in great performances, but it’s Pattinson who easily steals the show. And that performance is bolstered by some top notch direction, lovingly examining the gross, decrepit side of New York. Gorgeously lit and shot, you get a wonderful feeling of the sweaty, angry, and dirty city, transporting you to this seemingly alien world full of the worst people in the world.
And the worst of them all is old Connie Nikas. It’s clear from the beginning of this film that Connie thinks of nothing but himself. He’s a narcissist who finds ways to use everyone to his own gain, and doesn’t seem to give any though to others. He keeps Nick from his therapy, and any improvement he may make from it, he seems to be planning on cutting Nick completely out of the profits of the robbery, and probably has some plan to screw over Corey if things had worked out the way they were supposed to. Hell, we see Connie seduce a young girl, beat and drug an innocent man, and then break and enter into that man’s apartment to deal drugs in it. He’s not a good person. And yet, when he realizes that his selfish actions have lead to his poor, innocent brother to be sent to prison, he does seem to find some sort of responsibility. He actually does seem to love and care for his brother, and when he realizes that his actions may have doomed his brother he actually takes some responsibility. He puts everything on hold and endures what must be the worst night of his life, diving down into the depths of New York to try and save his brother. He continues to screw over everyone around him, but now he has a purpose other than saving himself. He finally learns that he has a responsibility for his brother, and does whatever he can to fulfill that responsibility. Because no matter our other personal flaws, when the chips are down all that matters is that you’re willing to do the right thing for the people you’re responsible for.
Good Time was written by Josh Safdie and Ronald Bronstein, directed by Ben and Josh Safdie, and released by A24, 2017.
Categories: Reel Talk