Good Time review: Confusion reigns in crime thriller

Good Time
Directed by Benny and Josh Safdie
Written by Ronald Bronstein and Josh Safdie
101 minutes, rated MA 15+

?????????
Selected cinemas

It's anything but a good time, actually. The title is American prison slang for time that comes off your sentence for good behaviour. Not that the movie makes that clear. I had to watch a YouTube video of the brothers Safdie, the joint directors, to find that out. I found out a lot of other stuff that I didn't get from the movie as well.

This is how it starts: Robert Pattinson plays a desperado named Connie who rescues his mentally handicapped brother Nick (played by Benny Safdie) from some kind of hospital. Nick is slow-witted but not uncommunicative. Connie tells him he doesn't belong there and they take off.

Next they're robbing a bank in Brooklyn or Queens, with rubber face-masks that make them look black. They actually stand in the queue, waiting their turn, wearing hoodies and sunglasses, before passing over a note. When the teller doesn't give them enough cash, Connie insists she get more. She goes into a back room while they wait.

Right about here, you're thinking "are they really that dumb?" Well, yes. Their getaway car is a limo driven by a man who doesn't know he's aiding a crime. Of course, the bag explodes in the car and they are covered in red paint.

So now two red guys try to get clean in a fast food rest room, as the manager bangs on the door threatening to call the cops. Another question: why would Connie take his brother on a bank heist in the first place? If he loves him so much, this is hardly doing him a favour.

One of the bits they dropped during the scriptwriting was that Connie has just got out of jail. It might have helped to tell us that, because it would have explained why Connie is trying to make this big score so he and his brother can buy a farm and live in safety somewhere.

It might have helped to explain everything else he does in one long night of stuff-ups and bad choices, all of which he does to help Nick. It might also have given us a clearer idea of the theme, which is about the brutalisation wrought by the American prison system. What kind of system would place a mentally handicapped and helpless guy like Nick in a cell with killers and creeps?

I can guess why they cut most of this. They wanted the movie to stand on its own feet as a genre thriller about the things that turn unfortunates into recidivists - they didn't want to have to spell it out. Instead, they give us a character, Connie, whose motivations are never clear - except that he loves his brother. For the sake of not spelling it out, they opt for who the hell knows?

Pattinson is fine in the role. It's the role itself that seems a brick short. Even so, there is plenty to keep us watching. The action never lets up, the tension is good, and there's an odd current of comedy running through it - albeit of a dark hue.

In their third feature, Benny and Josh Safdie show that they have lots of moves. Someone with access to money will notice and they'll step up in the next film and probably make something more conventional, or at least something that makes more sense.

They're auditioning with this one. That's not a crime but it makes it easier not to care. If you're going to make a thriller, it has to feel like your life depends on it, not your next job.

This story Good Time review: Confusion reigns in crime thriller first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.