J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Monday, August 07, 2017

Good Time: The Knave of Queens

There are plenty of gritty crime thrillers set in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and the Bronx, but Queens is usually stuck hosting sitcoms (Archie Bunker, King of Queens). However, the Safdie Brothers will make a convincing case Queens has just as many social pathologies as its neighbors. Constantine “Connie” Nikas is one reason why. He fancies himself a protective brother, but he has a toxic effect on everyone around him in Benny & Josh Safdie’s Good Time (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

When we first see Connie Nikas, he thinks he is doing his developmentally challenged brother Nick a favor by dragging him out of a therapy session. Yet, it is hard to see how a grown man who can’t comprehend common figures of speech like “don’t count your chickens before they’ve hatched” can function in the concrete jungle of Queens. Partially recognizing that fact, Connie drags his brother into a massively ill-conceived bank robbery. Despite a fairly clean initial getaway, Nick is quickly collared an subsequently beaten badly in his Rikers holding cell.

To spring his brother, Connie needs to raise bail money quickly, or try something even more desperate. It will be a long night of the soul for the senior Nikas brother, as one reckless criminal endeavor inevitably leads to another.

Viewers could conclude Queens is an uneasy mix of Brooklyn projects and suburban Dunkin Donuts from Good Times, which is not exactly fair, but it is not exactly wrong either. It has the kind a textured sense of place that makes people say “X place is like another character in the film,” but there are enough distinctive personas in Good Time nobody should feel like they need consolation from the urban landmarks.

In fact, Robert Pattinson and Benny Safdie fully commit, to a scary extent, as the George and Lenny-like Connie and Nick. Pattinson in particularly is an electrifying and horrifying presence as Connie. Just when you figure he cannot get any lower or more debased, he finds a way. Yet, what really makes the movie hum are the salty, attitude-drenched supporting performances. Oscar nominees Jennifer Jason Leigh and Barkhad Abdi definitely leave marks in limited screen time. Safdie discovery Buddy Duress is also a dangerous scene-stealer as the lowlife ex-con who crosses paths with Connie in a face-palm-inducing incident. Yet, perhaps the greatest discovery is Peter Verby as the harassed but ever so real therapist.

Good Time is brilliantly edited by Josh Safdie and co-screenwriter Ronald Bronstein, while Sean Price Williams’ woozily noir cinematography suits the madness to a tee. However, the Brothers Safdie sometimes unnecessarily push the envelope with behavior that goes beyond unsavory. A little less would actually have made it tighter and tenser, rather than jarring us out of the moment (you’ll know what we mean). Still, for a breakneck dash into existential angst, it is tough to beat. Recommended for fans of street-level New York crime thrillers, Good Time opens this Friday (8/11) in New York.

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