This past week saw the film scene make a decent rebound with the wide release of Good Time, a film that takes some chances with its main character that pays off in the form of one of the most interesting films to come out this year.
Let’s dive into the film by discussing its strongest aspect: its lead character who is a terrible person. Robert Pattinson plays a criminal named Connie Nikas who enlists his brother, Nick, to aid him in a bank robbery, and it is clear that this is not the duo’s first rodeo. While the robbery itself is bad, it is made infinitely worse by the fact that his brother is either autistic or has a similar mental disorder, so he cannot properly fend for himself and relies on the aid of his brother who is exploiting him. The film itself opens with Nick speaking to a doctor or specialist before Connie interrupts it to take Nick on this harebrained robbery attempt. Get used to that concept, as it is the defining characteristic of Connie.
Connie (left) and Nick after a botched bank robbery has then evading the cops. Witnessing Connie take advantage of his brother in the film is one of the strongest elements of its discomfort.
If anyone out there for any reason has any sympathy for Connie, go ahead and throw that in the garbage, as when the robbery goes bad, Connie and his brother arte forced to run from the cops. Nick falls behind before crashing through a glass door, and Connie proceeds onward, leaving his mentally disabled brother behind to be picked up and arrested.
And that concludes the opening scene of the film. But don’t get too comfortable, for Connie’s scumbag-ary is just beginning.
Desperate to get his brother out of jail, Connie proceeds to ruin or have a significantly negative impact on the lives of at least five people. What’s more, he is able to do all of this in just one night; his ability to be such an efficient typhoon of human misery is truly admirable.
He systematically takes advantage of the following people in a wide variety of ways: he manipulates a disillusioned and easily swayed lover (Corey Ellman) to try to fork over ten thousand bucks for Nick’s bail before her mother has to step in and stop the transaction, a random criminal (Ray) he accidentally kidnapped from a hospital when he mistakes him for Nick who had been caught in an altercation in prison, a naïve 16 year old girl (Crystal) who falls for his charms in part because she knows she is not supposed to, and a security guard (Dash) at a rinky-dink amusement park.
It can be assumed that the relationship that the first woman shares with her mother is strained and this episode only makes it worse. Ray tags along with Nick for a while as they go to collect a Sprite bottle filled with liquid LSD stashed in the aforementioned rinky-dink amusement park. They take Crystal’s grandmothers car to the park and leaver her there to be picked up by the cops while they rummage through a hybrid haunted house/tunnel of love travesty of a ride. While there, they ambush the security guard and pump him so full of LSD that he is probably still tripping to this day.
Ray manages to suffer the worst fate of the whole motley crew. He and Connie bust into the security guard’s apartment and stay there to lay low from the cops. There, Ray contacts an associate of his to trade the LSD in for some cash for him and Connie to split. As with everything else around Connie, the deal goes to hell, and the cops show up. Ray, following a bizarre drunken epiphany, decides to scale the building to evade the police. Naturally, this does not work out well, and poor Ray falls to his death.
Connie is very much the antagonist of this film, yet he is also the main character whom the audience follows for almost the entirety of the film. His actions are deplorable, but the audience is never able to break free from them. We have to witness every poor decision he makes and we have to witness as every person he takes advantage of suffers from simply being in his path of destruction. Following a character like this for the entirely of this film gives it a very uncomfortable feeling, which gives this film a quality that is you don’t see very often. Somewhat rare is the film that deliberately sets out to make its audience uncomfortable.
The only reason that Good Time is able to have such a character lead the film is because of the strength of Robert Pattinson’s performance. Of all the various aspects of the film, this is what stands out the most. He has come a long way from Twilight, and puts on a very compelling and convincing performance as the king of scumbags in this film. Without the performance of Pattinson, the character would be too weak for the audience to believe anything that happens on the screen, and the film simply would not work. With this interlude out of the way, let us return to how awful a person the lead character is and what that accomplishes for the film.
Connie is a character for which there is absolutely no sympathy, which is a testament to the quality of Pattinson’s performance.
Not only is our guide through this calamitous night the instigator of the various events, but we are at times painfully close to the action. The camera has a tendency to go to close-ups so extreme that nothing in the shot is even in focus. While most apparent in the beginning of the film, this lurking camera is seemingly ever present which gives certain aspects of the film a simultaneously claustrophobic feel while also one of a stalker closely following this individual around without permission. The result of this eavesdropping camera following such a horrible person is a film that has a constant feeling of unease and anxiety; the audience is never given a moment to take a breath and feel comfortable.
This is an effect that is relatively uncommon. It is difficult to come up with a extensive list of films that go out of their way to make the audience have some level of discomfort and unease throughout a film. The two films that immediately jumped into my mind that gave me a similar feeling were Neon Demon and Requiem for a Dream. All three films force the audience to bear witness to sights that should make our stomachs turn, but all three do it in a different way.
Neon Demon, being directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, has a vivid visual style that masks a very disturbing narrative where the horrific sights of the film stick onto the screen for what can seem like an eternity as seen here (warning, it is a spoiler and a very graphic one at that). It is much more grotesque than the other two as it drip feeds the discomfort into our veins.
Requiem for a Dream, Darren Aronofsky’s notorious film also achieves a high level of discomfort through a much more frantic editing method and bombarding the audience with different visual and audible stimuli. In many ways it feels like going on a wild ride with Willy Wonka, but it manages to be far more horrific and disturbing than even Wonka himself. The climax of Requiem for a Dream is a burst of intensity and trauma that will get even the most sedentary of audience members’ hearts to race.
While Good Time never quite reaches the peaks of those films, it does follow in their path with by having a sleazy sociopath escort the audience throughout the film. However, unlike those two films, Good Time actually manages to have a relatively positive ending. With Connie having finally been apprehended by the police, Nick is free of his influence as can be seen as he returns to the doctor from the opening scene. The credits roll over Nick in the care of a specialist conducting a class for people with similar metal disabilities. Unlike many of the characters in all three of the films mentioned here, Nick has a positive conclusion to his story, as he will receive the help he needs to have a fulfilling life without his brother.
Good Time is a film that successfully sets out to challenge the audience to bear witness to the crimes and manipulations of a character that is nothing short of rotten. While it never reaches the levels of intensity that other films of its nature reach, it delivers thanks to a tremendous performance by Robert Pattinson, and a satisfying conclusion that sees the main characters of the film get the endings that they deserve. While not quite enough to be the best film of the year, it is certainly the most interesting.