More than a week into it and the Cannes daily grind can really take its toll. To illustrate: every day the first press screening starts at 8:30 am, meaning you’d better be there at 8 or earlier for security checks. For those of us who can’t afford to live downtown, that entails getting up at some ungodly hour. During the course of the day, screening schedules and queuing requirements tend to prevent you from sitting down to have a proper meal, so you end up gobbling down sandwiches while rushing from one theater to the next, if even that. Then there are the writing assignments and deadlines to think about. It’s no exaggeration to say one watches a lot of movies in Cannes hungry, sweaty, stressed out, and painfully sleep-deprived.
Blah blah blah… the chore of having to sit through many of the year’s best movies on a diet of French baguettes. What a luxurious bother for a bunch of whiners. The truth is, even under circumstances that are far from ideal, one often gets jolted awake in Cannes by the sheer quality of filmmaking onscreen and it’s glorious.
This morning we were treated to the Safdie brothers Ben and Joshua’s third feature GOOD TIME and I had a blast. Also telling the story about two brothers Connie (played by Robert Pattinson) and Nick (Ben Safdie himself), the comedic heist actioner mostly takes place in one night, after some initial setup. Basically the small-time crook Connie has enlisted the help of his mentally challenged brother for a bank robbery that quickly goes south. Nick is arrested and, in his attempt to rescue his brother, Connie meets some questionable characters on the mean streets of New York and gets mixed up in a whole new lot of trouble.
The last film by the Safdie’s, HEAVEN KNOWS WHAT, already told us that these guys have style. And stylish is their follow-up all right. On a visual level the sleek camera and stark, contrastful compositions speak a language of grit and thrills. Psychedelic neon pops in the dark, suggesting a sordid restlessness gravitating towards the next getaway. This is a movie that really moves.
Musically a soundtrack of old-school trance maps the protagonists’ edgy state of mind. Jagged electric noise amidst blaring synthesizers conjures up a sense of great volatility: drugged, anxious, vaguely threatening.
What HEAVEN KNOWS WHAT lacked for me was a more substantial plot that would hold the style elements together in a narratively meaningful way. And on that front GOOD TIME delivered. The unexpectedly eventful screenplay contains vividly drawn characters from a series of mishaps and chance encounters. As the fateful night wears on, the wackiness of Connie’s misadventures also snowballs out of control.
Full disclosure: I’ve never appreciated Pattinson as an actor, not even for his acclaimed roles in THE LOST CITY OF Z or COSMOPOLIS. But he’s on fire here with what’s easily a career-best performance. Alert, unselfconscious, physically and temperamentally loosened with a casually spot-on American accent, he’s 100% present as Connie, pulling off both the ghetto drama and the offbeat comedy with conviction. As such he’s a bona fide contender for Best Actor in Cannes and could find traction in the upcoming awards season. Cinematographer Sean Price Williams, who also shot Alex Ross Perry‘s gorgeous QUEEN OF EARTH and GOLDEN EXITS, could be looking at major-league recognition as well.
Cannes has launched or given significant push to the careers of young filmmakers like Soderbergh, Refn, Dolan. In some ways reminiscent of DRIVE- especially in terms of its kinetic oomph and stylistic flourish – GOOD TIME brings encouraging signs for American indie cinema to the Croisette and could win favors with a particularly funky jury (hello, Will Smith). Perhaps even more importantly, it shut a self-pitying journalist up by sending him on a fun, fiery, fatigue-defying ride.