The Safdie brothers’ Good Time is one of a few ironically titled films playing in Cannes this year (devotees of Michael Haneke may not be surprised to hear that his film Happy End has an end but rather skimps on the happy) - and it isn’t spoiling the film’s delights to say that its characters do not, at any point, have an enjoyable moment.
Robert Pattinson plays Connie, a grifting, desperate criminal, to Benny Safdie’s Nick: two brothers who rob a bank at the start of the film and whose heist goes from bad to worse. The pair are conspicuously reminiscent of George and Lenny from Of Mice and Men, not least in the way the dreams they have built for themselves are clearly going nowhere. Sporting his worst haircut since David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis, Pattinson underlines his character’s frantic existence, with busy body language and frenetic, angry speech; he appears to care for his disadvantaged brother but the film points up all the ways in which his plans and activity are actually detrimental to his brother’s wellbeing. After their plans go awry and Nick ends up in hospital, Connie resorts to ever more desperate measures to help his brother and raise money.
The Safdie brothers, Josh and Benny, paint this world in slick splashes of neon — blues and pinks that imbue Connie’s pathetic escapades with a touch of hedonism. The film’s colours, and the popping, questing score by Oneohtrix Point Never, make the film’s action more maniacal, and the world it takes place in more broken. The movie’s desperate climax, in an abandoned fairground where violence surges from nowhere, is a further reminder of how at odds with the world these people are. So much of the film is played as a bleak farce, a little like Nicolas Winding Refn having a stab at a Coen brothers movie; but the brothers have a greater grip on reality, and don’t take pleasure in their characters’ idiocy. Everything in the film seems to be costed, every little action has consequences: the narrative hems its people in at all times.
The film is also strong on race relations, particularly in an early scene where the brothers rob a bank sporting rubber masks that are intended to disguise them as people of colour. Later on, Connie shamelessly takes advantage of a young black girl (Taliah Webster) when he’s fleeing the law: the film is quite clear that the brothers have no understanding of their privilege, and that what Connie feels he is owed by society is a product of his social standing as a white, straight man.
Despite this good work, presented in an allusive way, the film doesn’t go too deep on social questions, and remains something of a curio for the way it meshes an indie sensibility with aspirations to be a genre movie. Good Time hits most of its beats, but is ultimately disposable; this isn’t to say that there aren’t great pleasures to be had in its confident and able filmmaking, but it doesn’t step up to become something more than what is on the screen.