Good Time, directed by the Safdie brothers, is the grittiest movie I’ve ever seen. Like, really gritty. Not like stubble and liquor bottles and shadows gritty. Like, while I was watching it I felt a facsimile of the groggy, sticky sensation you get after having spent too much time in a hospital or a convention center or a subway car. There were times at which I could almost smell the musk of the movie, a low-stakes crime thriller starring Robert Pattinson as a scrappy bank robber trying to free his special needs brother from the system. But Good Time doesn’t introduce itself grit first.
The film opens on a sweeping helicopter shot of a towering building, light glinting off of its multitude of windows. It’s filmed with the kind of reverence for architecture that wouldn’t be out of place in a Christopher Nolan film. The building is establishment, it is authority, it is rule. Nothing in Good Time is treated with that same cinematic veneration again.
Almost perpetually drowned in the harsh lighting of fluorescent bulbs or neon or television static or sirens, the denizens of Good Time are consistently crammed uncomfortably into the frame with intrusive close-ups. It’s as if the camera boasts a thinly-veiled disdain for its subjects, as if it is begrudgingly focused on a two-bit criminal when it pines to display lavish architecture, as if the film itself is an ally to, or an extension of the same system Pattinson’s Connie is railing so rabidly against.
And yet for all it’s cold derision for Connie, the camera and he have a lot in common in regards to their attitude toward those around them.
Connie has zero interest in the people he interacts with. They aren’t flesh and blood to him so much as means to an increasingly imprecise end. He’s brilliant in his own way, moving the film forward with his spastic schemes like he’s jumping up rubble in a futile attempt to scale a crashing avalanche, but he is hardly worth the audiences sympathies. We’ve seen his enemy. We meet it before we meet him. That massive building, everything that built it and everything it stands for. It’s not a matter of victory so much as a matter of prolonging defeat.
Good Time is a filthy, grimy and uncomfortable movie that doesn’t exactly aim to live up to its title, but the social interactions and the antagonistic report between character and camera make it a compelling confrontation between individual and institution.