MIFF review: Good Time

Robert Pattinson fights like a feral animal for freedom in this feisty pulp from the Safdie brothers. Good times not included.

Blazing across New York, the Safdie brothers Ben and Joshua worked an unforgettable nightmare of impending disaster in their drugged-up street feature Heaven Knows What, a previous Melbourne International Film Festival highlight.

Scored with dread-filled synths, it starred formerly homeless woman Arielle Holmes, working from a screenplay based on her experiences, and benefitted greatly from the straight talking of its non-professional cast.

Back for this year’s MIFF with electrically charged follow up Good Time, brings in the big guns, upgrading to Hollywood heartthrob Robert Pattinson, though far from his Twilight prettiness. Losing of its predecessor’s gritty authenticity, shot on the hoof again in the midst of big city chaos, with precious little of that title promise on show for its hapless characters.

Pattinson, continually one-upping himself in a remarkably ascendant career, much like one-time co-star Kristen Stewart, plays small time crook Connie Nikas, hoping to pull off a brazen bank heist with his brother Nick, who has learning difficulties. Co-director Ben Safdie steps into this role.

While Connie’s love for Nick is clear, that reality is far from him being a good brother. There’s a tragic sense of collateral damage to his bloody-minded determination to break them both free into a better life. He busts his brother out of therapy and on to the masked robbery that, far from setting them up for life instead risks a life sentence. All this in a breakneck race to the Stranger Things-like retro opening credits.

Nick’s capture and imprisonment after it all goes predictably wrong sets Connie of on yet another harebrained money-making scheme to make his brother’s bail and it spirals downwards from there, with Heaven Knows What star Buddy Duress popping up in a darkly comic plot beat with a whiff of farce to it. It’s a brief moment’s levity in what is a pulse pounding thrill ride, neon lit and bristling with cinematographer Sean Price Williams’ intense close ups, punctuated like machine gun fire with dizzying camera pans and aerial scans.

Like a wounded animal, Connie desperately lashes out for an escape and in so doing will use and abuse everyone in his destructive path. That includes trying to extort money from his girlfriend Corey (an all too-brief appearance by Jennifer Jason Leigh) and taking advantage of the naive good nature of Taliah Webster’s unwitting teenager and her suspicious mother, too under the pump and out of resources to stop him.

By the time the plot has skidded into a fairground funhouse on the hunt for hidden acid, Connie’s violent streak and sheer desperation are inflicted upon Captain Phillips star Barkhad Abdi’s unfortunate security guard. The good times and good nature are in short supply, but there’s a road kill fascination to just how far he will go and whether he can pull off this manic mission or not.

Collaborating again with screenwriter Ronald Bronstein, Joshua Safdie keeps the pace tight and dialogue sparse. He and Ben know how to wrangle the inherent drama of rock bottom and Pattinson – losing himself completely in a mad, bad role both cunning and clueless – fires this frenetic pulp fiction.

Stephen A Russell @SARussellwords

★★★★

Book tickets for Good Times at MIFF here.