Two wild rides. Good Time: about a young criminal (Robert Pattinson) frantically trying to spring his brother from custody. And Game Night: a comedy in which a game-loving couple are caught up in a kidnapping that turns out to be real.
I often hear people make the mistake of assuming that the main character of a movie should be likeable or sympathetic. This idea is a hold-over from the Hollywood star tradition and popular novels. In the case of Connie Nikas, the frantic and relentless criminal played by Robert Pattinson in the recent film Good Time, that would definitely be a mistake. He’s a good con artist, but he’s also demented and amoral, and that makes him a destructive influence on everyone around him.
Good Time sneaks up on you. It starts with a confused, impassive young man, Nick, being given a psychological test by a shrink, a test which Nick responds to with barely concealed hostility. Soon his brother Connie shows up to whisk him away from what turns out to be a special program for developmentally disabled people. “You don’t need that,” he says, and instead he involves his brother in a New York bank robbery that of course goes wrong, with Connie escaping, but poor Nick tackled by cops and taken to a psych hospital for evaluation before assignment to Rikers Island. Meanwhile, Connie does everything he can to get his brother out of the hospital, including trying to get his girlfriend, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh, to draw off 10 grand in bail money from her mother’s credit card, and when that doesn’t work, attempting to sneak his brother out of a hospital room under the cops’ noses. The schemes get more and more insane as the film goes on, spiraling at an amazing rate, and along for the ride is a belligerent drug dealer played by Buddy Duress.
The picture is directed by two New York brothers, Josh and Benny Safdie, and written by Josh along with frequent collaborator Ronald Bronstein. Benny Safdie also plays Nick, the mentally disabled brother, and he turns out to be very affecting in that role. The star, of course, is Pattinson, who has mastered a New York accent here even though he’s English, and he’s absolutely compelling as Connie. The action is so intense, that the loud pulsating musical score seems unnecessary, but I guarantee the film will hold your attention. Good Time came out last year, but it never played in my neck of the woods. Now it’s streaming and on DVD and you should check it out.
On a lighter note, there’s Game Night, an action comedy directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, which is still playing in theaters. Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams play Max and Annie, a couple who like to hold game night parties with their friends. Along comes Max’s arrogant brother, played by Kyle Chandler, who has them play a game where he stages a pretend kidnapping and then the players compete to find out where he is. Trouble is, actual criminals arrive at the house during the game and drag him away, while the party goers still believe that it’s all pretend.
At least that’s the set up; the plot gets more complicated, and as usual in films like this, the twists and turns don’t withstand much scrutiny if you think about them too much. Fortunately, the picture doesn’t give you much time for that, and much of the credit is due to the clever, funny screenplay by Mark Perez. Bateman and McAdams make a great team, and in addition there’s Billy Magnusson as an hilariously stupid friend, and Jesse Plemons, who is especially good as a creepy neighbor, divorced from one of Annie’s friends, who never gets invited to the game nights and clearly resents it. I think there are too many twists in this story, but overall Game Night is a more intelligent than usual popcorn flick that’s not afraid to be silly.