What’s being touted as a hardboiled crime drama centered on desperation and gritty realism is no more than an obnoxious, noisy unintentional comedy of errors. There are surely people who’ll fall for this kind of gimmicky, seemingly “stylized” type of film, complete with a very hip, overbearing electronic score and a once-famous and never-respected actor slumming it as a filthy, method-acting scumbag. The movie is far too silly and far too amateurish to even be considered watchable, the kind of flick that wants to really wants to be, to paraphrase Preston Sturges in Sullivan’s Travels (1941), “a commentary on modern conditions. Stark realism. The problems that confront the average man! But with a little sex in it,” but instead keeps bumbling into oafishness.
The film opens with Connie (Robert Pattinson, slumming it with a goatee and dirty fingernails), trying to presumably get his brother Nick (Benny Safdie, also the co-director) out of some sort of special needs program. To do this, the two of them rob a bank, something ends up with the two of them — long story short — covered in an exploded dye packet and the mentally challenged Nick washing his face in a toilet and eventually running through a plate glass door and locked up in Rikers Island. The road to hell, etc., etc. Then, out of love for his brother, Connie runs around trying to get bail money together, taking advantage of his nattering pseudo-girlfriend (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and later sneaking into the hospital to get Nick out, who’s been admitted there after taking a beating in jail.
The general thrust of the movie is Connie thinking on his feet, but only getting himself into more trouble, a sort of Sisyphean lowlife. The trick is, it’s never really explained why he’s doing all this. Presumably to help his brother, who he keeps making things worse for, or something to do with hating his grandmother (Saida Mansoor), who he apparently hates and beat up. But Safdie and his brother Josh aren’t concerned with things like clarity. No, they want realism, where Connie inhabits the role of some sort of Scorsese-ian working-class anti-hero, who’ll beat and rape to get where he wants. But he’s too bumbling, too much of a general idiot to ever be compelling, let alone menacing, while plot holes and the power of bad screenwriting keep him from facing consequences till the final reel.
He’s a screw-up, and the bizarre thing is that the film doesn’t seem to understand this. Again, the idea is that the Safdies are taking their protagonist at face value, but the whole thing basically plays like a comedy, but with no laughs. I mean, the fact that Connie thinks he’s rescuing his brother from the hospital, but he’s actually kidnapped a complete stranger is one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen in the movie. The problem is, Good Time doesn’t see it the same way.
There’s nothing fun about the film, something that could’ve gone a long way in helping the overall cause. Most of the dialogue is people shouting at each other, while the camera is constantly handheld and tight in on everyone’s faces. It creates the appearance of realism, while feeling out of touch and unrealistic, shoving everything into your face with no nuance, no tact, no humanity. I’m not saying people like this don’t exist; it’s just that the Safdies don’t understand how to make them compelling. Rated R for language throughout, violence, drug use and sexual content. Opens August 25 at Fine Arts Theatre.