Good Time

Good Time ★★★½

"I got beat up. I'm the victim here."
"Cross the room if you've ever been blamed for something you didn't do."

Many months before the films North American release, I joked that Good Time looked like "a modern-day Phil Karlson picture" so I was doubly pleasantly surprised when I found that this film approximated that feeling. In his annual love-letter to Cannes, Mark Peranson called the film "a kind of Dionysian New York Gesamtkunstwerk....immersion without identification." Where Good Time might confuse is that the film is outside of its narrative, it is not asking us to identify with its character(s), yet it revels in capturing the leads (Robert Pattinson's) energy - but it's for this same reason I believe the film provokes such discomfort. Josh Safdie noted in an interview that Pattinson's character is named 'Connie' because it is short for 'con-man,' yet it could just as easily be short for 'concept.' This concept is a walking Faustian bargain, a totality in pure impulse: every action Connie makes is determined by his desperation, and as such, people only exist to serve a purpose as to how they might be useful to him. Connie tries to rob a bank, then tries to cheat his way into finding money to get his brother, also exploited by him, out of jail. Money rules Connie - he is a walking manifestation of capitalism. There has been the question that capitalism, in its strong over weak character, is actually the logical extension of nature, and that it is reason which makes us humans - Connie is devoid of reason.

It's fascinating and unusual to me that for many of even those who praise the film, the question of race is often elided, if even noticed. This momentarily made me wonder the extent of which a viewer expects that they must identify with their protagonist, though I am uncertain that this is the movies fault. But the films central dichotomy is apparent by the films second scene, where Connie and Nick attempt to rob a bank (and black teller) while in blackface. For me it's a stunning moment, no less because of its reality or likelihood - Connie and Nick are racially privileged, they know they can get off easier on shifting the blame on those already persecuted - or at least Connie does. Much of the film continues in this vein - Connie hides out in a black neighbourhood, continuing the deception and drawing police into that area, 16 year old Crystal is also an investment - if Connie and Ray abandon her at White Castle, the car becomes a stolen car. This is again of interest - Connie, even while working on full impulse, always know exactly what to do as long as it is to his advantage. Our job, as viewer, is to determine the right response to Connie as literal driver - it's perhaps this movies brilliance that we are to observe and make our own judgement on specific situations even as it follows a subjective formal construct. Later, these aspects ultimately collide into the Romance Apocalypse sequence - it still strikes me as odd here that the racial is not underlined in most readings of the film: the films most viscereal sequence is the assault of a black man, this is followed by Crystal's arrest and the cruelest motion of the characters: Ray's pouring of LSD down the mouth of the unconscious black security guard - this way the police immediately identify the unconscious and bloodied black male as perpetrator (who cannot even respond coherently!) while Connie, now in uniform as the Security Officer, is not questioned.

A key sequence to me is the Acid flashback by Ray, which works brilliantly under this Farber-esque Termite schema: these are rich mama's boys, who blot on Pepe the Frog papers - the most notable aspect of the sequence is the taxi ride, again the driver is black with the accent of a recent immigrant - he wants Ray out if he's going to vomit, because of the added labour of cleaning it up - Ray's only response: "My mother will pay you!" Connie and Ray function in a way that seems the inverse of something like I Walked With A Zombie - there Caucasians go to the Carribean and are haunted by the ghosts of dead slaves from centuries past - here it seems as though Connie and Ray are white ghosts, haunting immigrant communities. Later Connie and Ray continue to haunt spaces - they try to make a drug deal in the apartment of the subdued Security Officer, again attempting to game an already in-equal system, doing their misdeeds in a in the home of an already unjustly arrested black man - the fall guy is always the person of color. Yet the film clarifies it's inquiry here as well - deceptive exposition: the longest dialogue sequence of the film is devoted to Ray and Connie hashing out the details of how the money for the re-acquired Acid is divided, and as it appears that we are receiving narrative information we might miss that the point is right in-front of us: all that matters to these guys is money, they are venture capitalists at its base level - and in capitalism whatever is exploitable is equally expendable. The tussle in the hallway as Connie attempts to make his escape is a pure manifestation of this - its every man for himself: like a more rabid version of the Mexican stand-off at the end of Karlson's Kansas City Confidential.

Though I don't often find expediting on such aspects necessary, it would be a mistake on my part not to make note of the astonishing performances in this film - Pattinson seriously remarkable, all the more-so because it's his presence the film hinges on, and which drives both the films narrative and its ideas. And though brief, Jennifer Jason Leigh is seriously remarkable as a recovering addict in the short moments she's in (again, expendable to Connie's free enterprise) - with this and her turn in Twin Peaks she's really the MVP of the year...And Benny Safdie's performance as a mentally disabled person is as always a bit hazardous (yet we do not chastise Dustin Hoffman, Tom Hanks or Sean Penn when they do the same), but would you have put a disabled person through the action sequence in the mall? It's rather odd I admit, that Benny is really a MacGuffin for the film to get to its ideas, yet he manages to give the character a real sense of pathos, and the film's ending hinges on him, he too exploited by his brother.

This end-game is fascinating: the return to the institution. Initial viewings I (perhaps foolishly) took this as a happy ending: Nick is now no longer around those who will exploit him, and I nearly teared up at certain lines - such as the second quote which opens this piece, which seems a key to the film. This pathos comes from an unusual place: Connie ultimately wants money (as indicated by the initial bank robbery) but he also wants to get his brother out of the fix he put him in: Connie is strongly, also motivated by love. But only a fool believes that love alone can save the world - Connie's actions are the total opposite of his intentions. Also I wonder if Connie's actual arrest is a deus-ex machina: I find it hard to believe that the two wouldn't have actually gotten away in real life - this only makes the film more unsettling. But this return to the institution is fascinating: it is a classical, almost conventional happy ending. This is perhaps in-line with the films deceptive subjectivity: by now we as a viewer are expected to draw our own line, not be towed by any specific occurrence. We see something 'good', but because of how we have been taught by the film how to watch it, we see its opposite. I think this is brilliant - because it's actually a rather simple, obvious film! But how it gets to its points speaks to it's generosity: we are expected to make the connections because we as a viewer are being treated with respect, and for once, the assumption that we are intelligent - a rare case in both multiplex & art-house fare today. And Connie acts out of love - the familial binds the race: perhaps he doesn't know it - like the capitalist, his motivation is self & racial preservation. Outside of Twin Peaks: The Return, there has been no 'gesture' in films this year more haunting than Connie entering a dying black womans hospital room, feeding her some orange juice, before taking the rest for himself.

"...the damned always act from love..."

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