My favorite movie last year was Hell or High Water. It’s a weird coincidence that another movie involving a bank robbery gone wrong is currently my favorite movie of the year.
Good Time is Hell or High Water meets Of Mice and Men. You see, one of the two brothers in this bank robbery team is mentally challenged.
A pair of brothers made this movie — Ben and Josh Safdie, the team behind Heaven Knows What and Daddy Longlegs. My wife and I liked this movie so much that when we went to bed the night we saw it, we just laid there in the dark bringing up different scenes, and laughing at the crazy journey these guys took us on.
At one point during the movie the wife leaned in and said, “This is the type of movie Quentin Tarantino would screw up.”
I replied, “It’s a movie Aronofsky would mess up….or Soderbergh, Scorsese, Edgar Wright would’ve gotten wrong; perhaps only the Coen brothers could’ve done this as well as these guys did.”
That might seem like hyperbole but…Wright disappointed me with the recent and overpraised Baby Driver. Scorsese got way too much credit for The Wolf of Wall Street and awful The Departed. I could go on and on about all the talented directors that have disappointed me. I’d rather spend this review heaping praise on the brothers that co-directed this.
Josh Safdie co-wrote it and co-directed it. Benny Safdie co-directed and starred in it, playing Nick Nikas. Remember how blown away we were when we saw Slingblade and realized the guy playing Karl (Billy Bob Thornton) also wrote and directed the picture? That’s the feeling I had finding that out about Benny.
The movie is bookended by two scenes with Nick with a psychiatrist (the strangely fascinating Peter Verby, whom I’ve never seen before). The first scene had me chuckle at first, until I started tearing up at the sadness of the situation. The final scene is just perfect, as the credits roll, and you realize you just witnessed how great an experience going to the cinema can be.
There’s just something about watching a mentally challenged person that’s getting frustrated, that breaks my heart. Yet there have been many movies or actors that can’t pull it off (I’m looking at you, Sean Penn).
The opening meeting with the social worker/psychiatrist is quickly interrupted by brother Connie (Robert Pattinson) bursting in and dragging Nick out of there. It reminded me of Tom Cruise’s character wanting to take custody of Raymond in Rainman, despite the audience knowing this probably isn’t in the best interest of anyone involved, even if you love your brother, and especially if the brother wants to use you to commit a crime.
The exchange with the bank teller is both humorous and intense. And as the two leave the bank down a few different back alleys, their ride isn’t there. When they flag the car down, my wife leaned in and said, “Wait a second. Is their ‘baby driver’ an uber?”
At this point, I’m not going to tell you anything else that happens. To do that would ruin the fun you should have experiencing all this on your own. Lots of things go wrong, and you meet lots of interesting characters along the way. There’s a teenage girl (Taliah Webster) that is terrific. Like all the other characters in this movie, very authentic. She’s not some ultra-hip kid that knows everything, but she’s smart enough to be looking at the various scenarios happening around her to know some jacked up stuff is going down.
There’s an Oscar nominee — Barkhad Abdi. Maybe you don’t recognize the name, but he was the main pirate in Captain Phillips (Tom Hanks). He plays a security guard, and again, a perfectly written character. He’s not some clueless guy that really wishes he was a cop.
There’s Buddy Duress (Heaven Knows What), who in real life has served time in Rikers Island. He’s a small time drug dealer with a hysterical story, and a bit of a drinking problem.
There’s another Oscar nominee in this — Jennifer Jason Leigh. I said years ago I was tired of her popping up as wacky characters in indie flicks, but she worked well in this. And it reminded me of her movie The Machinist (Christian Bale), because both films had bizarre scenes in an amusement park.
Robert Pattinson is the lead, and he’s so gritty, conniving and interesting to watch…it almost makes me forgive him for the movie Cosmopolis. It’s strange that we realize he’s a rather despicable character, but he can think so fast on his feet, that we’re reluctantly rooting for him. As he’s spouting his next move, you’re nervously listening and worrying about each word, as if you were asked to participate. The action is helped a lot by the electronic, techno-thumping score by Oneohtrix Point Never (with an original song by Iggy Pop). You feel like you’re trapped in a rave, and it’s exhilarating. It’s like the first Trainspotting.
Sometimes we get a terrific aerial view of the car driving through Queens. Other times, it’s a chaotic scene at a bail bond office with everyone yelling at each other on different phones.
There’s interesting cinematography from Sean Price Williams. I’m usually not a fan of handheld cameras and lots of close-ups, but they worked well here, often creating a claustrophobic and tumultuous atmosphere.
Benny Safdie gives a restrained, touching performance as Nick. I hope he continues to act in the movies they do. Rumor has it Martin Scorsese is executive producing their next film.
As I’m writing this, the late night news just said this weekend was the worst box office for movies in 16 years. They speculated that it may have had to do with the hurricane and other weather, as well as the McGregor/Mayweather fight. The news story ended with them saying The Hitman’s Bodyguard was the top at the box office. Trust me when I tell you — that movie is awful. Go see this instead. It’s probably going to end up making the same amount of money that was spent on craft services for the Hitman’s Bodyguard, and that’s a shame.
4 ½ stars out of 5.