Friday, March 2, 2018

Good Time

GOOD TIME                         B                    
USA  (101 mi)  2017  ‘Scope  d:  Josh and Ben Safdie  

Every day I think about untwisting and untangling these strings I’m in
And to lead a pure life
I look ahead at a clear sky
Ain’t gonna get there
But it’s a nice dream, it’s a nice dream

A thoroughly entertaining romp through the criminal underworld of New York City, like a race to hell, most all of it expressed through hyperkinetic surface detail, propelled by a mesmerizing techno score written by Oneohtrix Point Never (Daniel Lopatin), reminiscent of John Carpenter’s synthesized score in Escape from New York (1981), as viewers are jettisoned through what feels like a laceratingly frenetic, amped up adrenal race through a neon-lit city landscape.  The Safdie brothers have spent a decade making low-budget movies on the streets of New York, perhaps defined by gritty urban dramas with lost souls on the edge that are exclusively male and testosterone driven, troubled characters reflected by the constantly moving, anxiety-ridden camerawork from Sean Price Williams, all of which suggests a visit through the heartland of a world of trouble.  Similar films that come to mind are John Schlesinger’s MIDNIGHT COWBOY (1969), William Friedkin’s THE FRENCH CONNECTION (1971), Sidney Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon (1975), Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets (1973) and Taxi Driver (1976), all of which examine that tenuous line between good and evil, morality and criminality, where often they feel intertwined.  Almost unnoticed is an appearance by Peter Verby, easily mistaken as a David Cronenberg look-alike, playing an optimistic therapist in a mental health institution conducting a psychiatric interview with a confused, mentally challenged patient, Nick Niklas (Ben Safdie).  Out of nowhere, his brother Constantine “Connie” Niklas (Robert Pattinson) barges in and whisks his younger brother away to safety.  Connie is what you would call a con man, a man with no moral conscience, a wise guy continually mixed up in petty crime, whose mind is constantly trying to beat the system, endlessly scheming how to get money, the quicker the better, thinking nothing of using others in the process, including his brother, always in a state of overriding desperation, having spent a lifetime making bad choices.  Lugging his brother around (not afraid to exploit him), a gentle-giant Lennie character from Of Mice and Men, Nick often gets mixed up in Connie’s hare-brained schemes, paying the price for his brother’s recklessness.  Almost immediately the two are seen wearing dark-skinned masks in a botched bank robbery, but rather than accept what’s in the teller’s drawer they want more, sending her behind closed doors where they impatiently wait, with viewers thinking she may never return until after the cops show up, but she brings what they ask for, seemingly going off without a hitch, but no sooner are they starting to feel euphoric afterwards but a red dye explosion takes place in the honey bag, like tear gas, instead coating them in a thick red cake, immediately retreating into a public rest room to wipe it off, but once back on the street they are identified as suspects by a patrolling police car, with Nick running away in panic.  The two go racing through the streets of New York, with Connie escaping, but Nick hurls his body through a plate glass window, suffering serious injuries, where he’s held by police, Good Time clip - “Get back here” YouTube (1:37).
No sooner are we introduced to these two oddly matched brothers but they’re already mixed up in serious trouble.  Connie goes into rescue mode, first visiting a bail bondsman to get his brother out of jail, handing him the dye-tainted stolen money, but it’s not enough, as he needs $10,000 more.  Next he visits his lonely and dimwitted girlfriend Corey, none other Jennifer Jason Leigh, an ex-addict who’s already been convinced they are going on a trip together, where she’s exploring exotic vacation spots on her iPad while Connie’s busily explaining the situation with his incarcerated brother.  Everything happening is veering out of control, which is the central core of the film, plunging headfirst into more turmoil, always racing against the clock, failing to meet self-imposed deadlines, with heavy consequences continuously lurking over his shoulders.  Corey’s mother immediately suspects something is up, as this guy is bad news, warning her daughter not to leave with him, as he’s obviously manipulating her for her credit card, but Corey’s mother understands who she’s dealing with and stops payment on the card, thwarting his little plan, but in the process Connie learns his brother is not in jail but in a hospital.  Just winging it, apparently, Connie visits the hospital, exploring the possibilities, enticing various workers for information, eventually finding a policeman stationed outside a hospital room, waiting for him to leave his station and take a break, then wheeling the comatose and heavily bandaged patient out in a wheelchair, hopping inside a transport vehicle for the disabled, claiming some sort of mix-up when all others have been delivered, asking to be dropped off just a block or two away, then working back to the last patient dropped off, convincing an elderly Jamaican woman that he’s been locked out of his house, needing to make a call for help, but it will be hours before they get off work to come pick him up.  This is standard operational procedure for Connie, who never lets up, but relentlessly cons his way through every last detail, even before he can figure things out.   The older woman goes to sleep, leaving him with her 16-year old granddaughter Crystal (Taliah Webster, a revelation of laid-back indifference and sparked curiosity) in front of the TV.  Finding peroxide in the bathroom, Connie decides to dye his hair blond, which surprises Crystal, but when Connie’s face appears on TV as a wanted criminal on the loose, he grabs her in his arms and starts kissing her before moving to the bedroom for a quickie.  As if there weren’t already enough problems, screams from the other room alert Connie to soon discover that he’s rescued the wrong patient, Ray (Buddy Duress), who’s freaked to find himself in somebody else’s house, needing drugs for the pain, as his face is badly injured.  A brief flashback sequence explains his plight, a nonstop monologue, Good Time flashback scene (Ray's story) (3:55), where we learn he’s just as much of a low-life hustler as Connie.

Pitting two losers together is a stroke of bad luck, each outdoing one another in criminal ineptitude, devising a plan for quick cash, as before Ray got arrested, he was hiding inside a broken-down amusement park called Adventureland, stashing several thousand dollars and a bottle of liquid LSD, worth a fortune in individual hits.  Returning to the scene of the crime, Connie convinces Crystal to let him drive her grandmother’s car as they go out on a joyride, leaving Crystal to stand watch while the two stumbling outlaws search in the dark for the lost treasure, only to be accosted by a security guard, with Connie beating the man unconscious, destroying the security tape at his work station, then switching uniforms, pretending he’s security, allowing the arriving police to think the injured man is the prowler, with Ray rinsing his mouth with the liquid acid just for good measure, so if he wakes up he’ll be completely disoriented.  This little scheme raises questions, as it cynically exploits race in ways society takes for granted, blaming blacks for crimes committed by whites.  Connie is white, while the beaten suspect is black, making it more likely police ask no questions, as this fits their racial profile, with police routinely arresting suspicious blacks, never questioning whites.  This plays out further when Crystal is arrested, with Connie watching it all from a distance, refusing to lift a finger to get her off the hook.  Whether intentional or not, this leaves the impression blacks are always to blame when it comes to urban crime, at least in the eyes of the cops, while white perpetrators get off scot free.  This is significant, as it fits a familiar stereotypical pattern that plays out in popular culture, like cop shows on American TV, where blacks are routinely cast to play the criminal element.  The question remains if the Safdie’s are smart enough to make this issue a comical subversive take, a play on words, so to speak, or if they’re just like everybody else, living in a world of white privilege.  This has become something of a dividing factor on this film, exploiting people along color lines, which would include an overly vulvnerable dark-skinned immigrant community as well.  But in a flash they’re gone, Good Time (2017) / Leaving the park YouTube (2:14), without the cash, which they couldn’t find, but with the bottle of acid, returning to the apartment of the security guard, with Ray calling his dealer for instructions.  With no rest for the wicked, there is such a rush of adrenaline that there is no time to think in this film, as it’s all a mad rush to a doomsday scenario, accelerated by the frantic decisions being made, with nonstop chatter getting in the way, becoming an electrifying, high-voltage thriller with uncaptured criminals on the loose, each catapulted into a metaphoric brick wall that stands for their future, an inevitable obstacle that is insurmountable, yet they race towards it anyway.  This kind of nihilistic vision is not unique, but the catastrophic pace accelerating headlong into the abyss is a kind of freewheeling assault of utter recklessness, with the inevitable outcome predictable.  Nonetheless, the Safdie’s do add a touch of elegance to the finale, with Connie ultimately caught like a rat in a maze, as viewed from an upper level high-rise vantage point, with Ray equally as doomed.  Nick, on the other hand, at least has a future, however bleak, confined to an institution, separated from family and friends, joining a class of similarly disabled students, no longer alone, but part of a collective, where they’re all asked to join in if they’ve had similar experiences, like “Cross the room if you’ve ever been blamed for something you didn’t do,” with aging icon Iggy Pop singing an anthem for the damned over the closing credits, Oneohtrix Point Never - The Pure and the Damned (Official Video) ft ... YouTube (4:41).

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