‘Good Time’ Review

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Certain cinematic landscapes stay with you long after viewing. Recently, the Cyberpunk wasteland of Blade Runner 2049 and Technicolor wonderland of La La Land. But there are none more evocative than the “city” movies of the ’70s, the grimy and corrupt streets of Gotham depicted in films like Scorsese’s Mean Streets and Lumet’s Serpico. With Good Time — Josh and Benny Safdie’s third co-directorial feature — they have given us a modern reimagining. Its New York setting is a nightmarish milieu where the incessant traffic deafens, buildings bleed neon, and streets are polluted with the kind of scum that would make Travis Bickle pull the tarp off his taxi and dust off the revolver.

In it, Robert Pattinson plays Connie, a petty criminal that has made it his mission to ‘rescue’ his mentally disabled brother Nick (played by Benny Safdie) who was imprisoned after an ill-concocted bank heist. Here the movie begins proper and barely relents for its swift 101-minute runtime. Predictably, Connie’s rescue attempts are thwarted by chaos and misfortune as he scurries through Brooklyn’s Stygian streets over one frosty night. It is the ingenuity with which events proceed that are harder to predict. Pit stops in a desolate amusement park, a stranger’s apartment and moments of mistaken identity blend menace and farce on a gleaming knife-edge.

While there are moments of black humour, its impossible to mistake farce for funny. The film has you so deeply wrapped in its web of anxiety and paranoia that when something comical happens you can’t untangle yourself in time to utter more than a hollow bark. There is a trippy flashback sequence involving Buddy Duress’ Ray that would be hilarious were it not for the act of senseless violence that directly proceeds it. This endless sense of paranoia is courtesy of cinematographer Sean Price Williams‘ claustrophobic hand-held camera, which frames characters in intense close-ups under artificial lights, and Daniel Lopatin‘s throbbing synthetic score that owes much to Tangerine Dream‘s work on William Friedkin’s Sorcerer.

But in his career-best role, Robert Pattinson’s performance is with what makes Good Time so enthralling. His screen presence is intoxicating. Connie is as unsympathetic a protagonist as they come; an impulsive slimeball whose broken moral compass points somewhere between selfish and malicious. His powers of manipulation are evident early in the film when he demands that his girlfriend (played by Jennifer-Jason Leigh) pay for his brother’s bail bond — with her mother’s credit card. He is the type that digs himself deeper and deeper into trouble and then blames someone else for not bringing a ladder.

Pattinson is a bundle of nerves — glancing over his shoulder, around corners, out of windows. He’s rarely able to stay still. We never quite know what he will do next, and one supposes, neither does he. He’s not so much running from the police as he is his own series of stupid decisions, yet he manages to never outstay his welcome. Much of the performance comes down to the eyes, the way they burst from his gaunt face, and the edgy unpredictability of his body language which channels the enigmatic flair displayed by actors like De Niro and Pacino in their most lauded roles.

I saw Good Time on Netflix due to an odd Australian cinematic release. Its theatrical release must be gorgeous. At home on a Friday night, the Safdie brothers’ managed to tear me from my comfortable environment and drop me into an urban cesspool so tactile that I felt as tense as their protagonists. Those ’70s New York crime movies and their memorable anti-heroes remain in the public consciousness 40 years after their release because of vivid environments and compelling characters. In one of the best films of 2017, Connie Nikas joins their ranks.


You can watch Good Time now on Netflix.com and iTunes. Thanks for reading. Let me know what you thought of the film in the comment section below, or on twitter @jayd3l. 

 

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‘The Snowman’ Review

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Since Edgar Allen Poe wrote The Murders in the Rue Morgue, crime and detective stories have remained a popular part of public culture. One can barely turn on a television and open (insert streaming service of choice here) without being inundated with programmes depicting flawed geniuses solving gruesome crimes in exotic locations. Undoubtedly due to the suitability of the genre to episodic television, cinematic depictions have been scarce of late. Enter The Snowman, which attempts to bring a chilling tale of Nordic noir to screen but manages only to be a slushy mess that resembles something squashed together by children.

Based on the bestselling novel by author Jo NesboThe Snowman sees Michael Fassbender play Harry Hole, a Norwegian detective in Oslo. There have been many boring and obvious jokes about the name. In Norway, it is pronounced ‘Hoh-leh’ and is apparently quite common. Though the film is thoroughly westernised: ‘Politi’ changed to police, newspapers written in English, characters who speak in British accents. Why not change his name to something less ridiculous? Let’s just call him Harry. Harry is a brilliant detective with a drinking problem and a tortured past. Although the viewer is subjected to plenty of drinking, no past, and certainly no brilliance. We are, however, told of his prowess. Star recruit and new partner Katrine Bratt (Rebecca Ferguson) explains that she studied his cases “at the academy”. Katrine believes that she has found a prodigious serial killer that has gone unrecognised. One that strikes when the snow falls and leaves behind a twisted signature — a snowman. Coincidentally (the film is rife with convenient coincidences), after Bratt’s hypothesis Harry receives a personalized letter from the killer and the hunt begins.

Well, less of a hunt and more of an amble through a gallery of tropes and half-finished story threads that wrap up with the nuance of HSC student running out of time in an English exam. Director Tomas Alfredson (Tinker Tailor Soldier SpyLet the Right One In) wrote before the film’s release that up to 15% of the script was not shot, leaving the plot to be spliced together in the editing room. I doubt the missing percentage would fix the gaping holes in the script. That would be like filling a half-finished jigsaw puzzle with play dough and calling it a day. They couldn’t have been too short, several shots that appear in the trailer were omitted from the final product. What was shot, and released, includes an inconsequential subplot involving J.K. Simmon’s billionaire Arve Stop, a bid for the Winter Olympics and (possibly?) human trafficking, a muddling mess of interviews and the death of a character that is inexplicably ignored and never confirmed. Then there is Val Kilmer’s baffling appearance as detective Gert Rafto in a series of flashbacks. His scenes have been inexplicably dubbed and leave him looking like a failed ‘Lip Sync Battle’ contestant whose puffy face has been injected with bee venom.

It does have its moments. Sweeping shots of frosted roads snaking across frozen fjords build a chilly thriller atmosphere, a few well-executed jump scares and an effective scene involving coffee beans and melted snow hints at what could have been. Unfortunately, the snowmen of the central conceit are never given the right attention, and by the third hard cut from suburban street to a sludgy snowman, become more comedic than horrific. Good crime story resolutions come slowly into view like a boat on the horizon, with a sigh of contentment and a chuckle of inferiority from the audience as they realise the answer was right there the whole time. The Snowman has none of that. The payoff is ham-fisted and confusing. And when a completely mistimed hint at a sequel came, I couldn’t help but think: there snow way I’d watch that.