Good Time (2017) was directed by the Safdie brothers. I saw literally no advertisements for it, and mainly went and saw it because I had a free Sunday and it seemed interesting. This movie, in short, was not quite what I expected it to be. I went into the theater expecting a normal action-crime movie experience, with all of the crude humor and washed down characterization that action movies normally offer. Good Time was … unexpected, in a word, because it was not that at all. But sadly, the fact that it broke away from some crime thriller cliches cannot, in my eyes, save it from how it was an ultimately disappointing experience.
The premise of the story builds off of two brothers, Constantine “Connie” (Robert Pattison) and Nick Nikas (Ben Safdie), the latter of whom is mentally handicapped. It’s clear that Connie wants a better life for his brother, yet is ultimately a destructive figure in Nick’s life, tearing him away from therapy and bringing him along in bank heists. The tale truly begins when Nick is accidentally caught in a heist gone wrong, and Connie spends the rest of the film attempting to break his poor brother out of jail. However, Connie messes up by breaking the wrong man out, and attempts to correct the blunder by spending a neon-blurred, exhausting night trying to make ends meet.
Now, I feel as though most of this premise is amazing. From that vague summary alone, I see a plethora of chances for some real character growth in which Connie could question if he is really the best person to take care of his brother, or if he’s really doing what’s right for Nick. There could also have been a lot of interesting side-quests (a la Homer’s Odyssey) in which Connie has to piece together several people or things in order to break Nick out. There was plenty of room for confrontations of ones morality (or even mortality), biting commentary on American society, poverty, or the way institutions handle mentally handicapped people, or a vivid theme of unconventional family roles and people’s character.
And yet the movie fulfilled none of these concepts, leaving me disappointed as the credits rolled.
I like it when movies tell me something. I like it when movies show me something meaningful, something that will stick with me. Good Time almost hit the mark in the beginning scenes in which we saw how Connie cared about his brother and how he, to a toxic point, believed that he was the only one who could take care of him. Nick and Connie’s dynamic was charming and endearing, and it really made me care about their story and what happens.
However, I feel as though in excluding Nick from the primary narrative (despite how finding Nick is the center of the plot!) was its mistake. We like Connie when he’s around Nick because we see an interesting dimension of them both, and we see their dependence on each other. In making Connie our primary focus for the majority of the film, he becomes … stale. The movie tries feebly to remind us that he’s a “good guy” by occasionally giving us glimpses into his psyche — concerned glances at wounded, innocent security guards, his fondness for dogs, et cetera — but for me, it lost its backbone when juxtaposed beside scenes of violence, anger, and misogyny.
And I don’t mean that as a hit against Robert Pattison, who is a wonderful actor. It’s just that his tremendous performance cannot save the fact that the character he is portraying is practically impossible to root for.
Another thing that disappointed me was how the plot itself was rather … boring. I won’t lie: in the moment, the suspense and thrills were utterly nail-biting, but upon examination after leaving the theater, I came to the conclusion that not a lot really happened in the movie, and very little was said in terms of a message.
When it comes to action in movies, I believe that the plot has to be strong in order for the action to really carry. In Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), for example, the car chases and crashes and violence really envelop the audience in terror because we care about Max, Furiosa, and the wives — we desperately want them to be safe because they’ve been established as innocent people who simply want peace after many years of strife and suffering. If the movie did not first establish that these are sympathetic characters we should feel for, we wouldn’t care when Splendid falls out of the car and goes beneath the wheel. We’d just say, “Welp, there goes that one girl.”
Mad Max doesn’t use its action to hold our attention in place of the plot. The plot and the action go hand in hand, and that’s what makes it so dire, exciting, and terrifying — because we care.
And this is a principle Good Time really misses out on. Sometimes during the movie, I felt as though they were just waving violence and tense moments in my face without really saying anything.
In the scene where Connie and the other criminal are wandering through the haunted amusement park looking for the money and the Sprite bottle of acid, I was annoyed and exhausted. Sure, it was rather thrilling to see these two hide from cops and try to get away safe, but at that point, we were so far into the subplot I was beginning to forget that the actual purpose of this movie is for Connie to find Nick. It felt almost as if they saw how well the aesthetic of an abandoned amusement park at night fit with the movie’s general aesthetic and just had to find a way to squeak it in. It said nothing about Connie, it said nothing about Nick, it said nothing about anybody or anything. The movie was just … off track, seemingly just padding for runtime instead of showing us something of value.
I truly think that where Good Time went wrong is the fact that it set itself up to be a character (or family)-driven narrative and ended up being a stale crime thriller that zig-zagged far too much in getting from point A to point B. It left me hungry for more content, for a better resolution, for anything. And I’m almost more insulted that the movie offered me so much potential and then promptly failed me than I would have been if the movie was just bad from start to finish.
And I won’t say that I hated everything about this movie, because I didn’t. I know I seemed annoyed about it previously, but the aesthetic and the soundtrack were actually very keen and pleasing. I liked how it was consistent with it, and I liked the way it fit with the underworld theme the movie had going.
As I mentioned, I loved the relationship between Connie and Nick that the movie set up. I thought they were utterly charming, and I fell in love with the way they seemed to strengthen each other when acting as partners. It was very… Of Mice and Men, and that’s a dynamic I can’t help but adore.
Also, while I’ve mentioned that the writing in this movie is questionable if not just poor, I will say that their usage of indirect characterization is better than most movies. We see more in a gesture, an action, and a murmur than most movies show in whole paragraphs of narration or exposition. That’s a hard skill to master, so it’s worth commending.
Indeed, I didn’t hate everything about this movie. I just can’t help but recognize where things could’ve been greatly improved, and so must express my remorse for the meaningful story we could’ve had.
Instead of basing the whole plot around Connie accidentally plucking the wrong man from the hospital, we could’ve had modern underworld interpretations of the trials from The Odyssey — car crashes and drug lords and mobsters and corrupt cops, the whole shebang. Connie going to the ends of the Earth in order to get Nick back, contrasted by an equal view of Nick’s experiences in jail: the brothers both working to reunite themselves with the other. A satisfying ending that involves the brothers going home together, or of Connie admitting the fact that he’s a toxic person for Nick to be around, or even a glimpse of the brothers being reunited: a reassurance that they’re both safe and that the narrative has closed.
But instead, there is all buildup to the concept of Connie rescuing Nick and utterly no payoff. Despite Connie’s strenuous actions, we get nothing, no resolution, no assurance. The movie leaves us sitting there thinking, “Wait, if absolutely nothing happens here, then what was the whole point of that hour-and-forty-minute goose chase?”
Good Time, in short, fails to deliver. And truly, I mourn that. I give the movie 2.5/5 stars, and eagerly await the next Safdie brothers film for more dazzling aesthetics, cinematography, and hopefully, improvement.