“Don’t be confused. It’ll only make things worse for me.” There are an estimated 8 million people living in New York City. The Safdie Brothers’ vicious, rollicking, desperate Good Time is a dread-inducing, stomach-churning kind of modern classic, which chains itself to one person. Following a bank robbery gone wrong, Connie Nikas (Robert Pattinson) attempts that night to get his brother out of jail, the film is as claustrophobic as it is sprawling, as crushing as it is awe-inspiring, as reactionary as it is necessarily deconstructionist, as grounded as it is otherworldly.
The score pulsates throughout the entire film, unlike Hans Zimmer’s score in Dunkirk, which feels awkwardly coated atop the film, all bombast and authoritarian, Oneohtrix Point Never’s elegant work for the film seems grown in tandem, like the staking for a tomato plant. The aesthetics of Good Time waiver on the precipice of science fiction, with the score reminiscent of Blade Runner’s indulgent diegesis, a wheelchair lift synthesized and distorted, and the clammy neon, a welcome revision after the oversaturated, objectifying hues of Gaspar Noe and Nicholas Winding Refn, forming the sense that Connie’s world is isolated akin to a bully’s, abusive and solitary, a con life.
The film is tense and brisk and brusque, the sort that’s nearly inevitable with such close, jarring cuts. But the fast editing doesn’t account for the perverted genius of its imagery, such as a bright red paint tag car crash, or the double-sided Adventureland opus.
Pattinson has long been one of our great underrated performers, but here he exhibits a life, an energy beyond his strange magnetism. The human calculation as a performance that has been such a gift, that empathetic, maniacal precision, is put into overdrive, an overheated iPhone glitching out. His work ranks only against Jean-Pierre Leaud’s work in The Death of Louis XIV among the year’s best male performances. The surrounding actors, an orbit of unfortunate side characters, are universally great. Buddy Duress damn near steals the show in a centerpiece flashback, a blurry 7/11 slushie of a heist folly. Jennifer Jason Leigh continues to have the most interesting, diverse body of work for any American actress working today.
Much of the criticism propped against the film has to do with Ben Safdie’s performance as Nick, Connie’s mentally disabled brother, but I wager that this is misguided. Though his severe debilitation may register as a bit trashy (a common tendency throughout the film that I find more piercing than lazy), his treatment is questionable. Among other things, Good Time is the anti-Of Mice and Men, suggesting Nick a victim of toxic love; on a walk through a mental ward, Connie. There are intimations of domestic violence from both Nick and Connie’s grandmother and Connie, but rather than featuring as explicit reference points, they inform the silence of Connie’s tight grip on Nick’s shoulders in an alleyway or Nick’s momentary pauses in the final scene. The treatment of Ben Sadie’s character feels nothing if not totally respectful; He gets aggressive but not ragingly so when he gets sad, or cannot comprehend something, and the film never asks for pity or to excuse his obliviousness. The Safdies offer a realistic depiction of mental disabilities, brimming with humanity and support, never once relegated to a plot device by anyone except his own brother.
The film’s cultural criticism extends further. The tabs of LSD on Pepe cartoons, the stunning use of the N-word towards the end of the film, the black masks, the money laundering service, the comforting atmosphere of Leigh’s mother’s apartment, all signify a dimension of honesty and basically daring bravura machismo in its underpinnings. Labeled somewhat correctly as trolling, akin to von Trier’s formal gibberish in Nymphomaniac, the Safdies refuse to ignore socio-political backdrops, pushing the queasy implications of Connie’s indiscriminate actions brilliant through the dimensions of Leigh’s fallen class, or Rose Gregario’s Lauren’s mere happenstance, shifting from a stranger’s kindness to a girl uselessly jailed because of her race. The Safdies nudge and encourage a sort of savage pleasure in Connie’s increasingly desperate antics, even as the film grows increasingly sickeningly, vague kindness exploited by context. Connie’s vicious beating of Barkhad Abdi’s security guard is tinged with subconscious bias and a horrific layer of nervous sweat, but more disturbing is the police’s. The film is peppered with narrow escapes and plot devices, but they are deliberate; Connie gets by because of his manipulation and his identity, easily slipping through. The Safdies view class as a major limitation, but one further complicated and far surpassed by those of racial conflict.
Far from a metaphysical meditation on how society guides morality, Good Time physically embodies New York on a geographic and individual so profoundly, and fluidly. The camera traces the city from the ground level, only shifting during several transport interludes, where zooms to monitor a car, revealing an empty street, then a block occupied by so many damn people. That a film can have so tight a narrative but encompass in such a distinctly contemporary fashion one of the most iconic cities in the world is one of the central magic paradoxes of this micro-tragedy epic.
Like the recent Nocturama, Bertrand Bonello’s sexy French terrorist masterpiece, which opened the same week beside Good Time in New York and Los Angeles, Good Time’s power is built on a mixture of impeccable craft, a deep sense of place and contradictory philosophical impulses.
Connie is a bad person, and yet we allow his point of view because the film allows our engagement and horror to reflect a certain helplessness. Connie has never been taken to task, never gone to prison, and the audience garners futile hopes to escape free as well. The film is gross and ugly, to be sure, but there is a beauty to its embrace of every moment of stillness, and its realization of how destabilizing capitalism can be when even one person abuses their position of power. That Nick finds help from social workers feels as uplifting as it is a cynical comfort, that the system has worked out for a single person, with so many other still reeling from its faults. Good Time moves too fast to fully register all these questions on initial impact, but they latch hooks into the brain for days afterward.
Good Time is a great crime film because of how gleefully its submerges itself in the problems of the genre and the generosity with which it treats its own trolling. Through Connie, the film offers an anthropological X-Ray of New York antithetical to the tenants of any film in its class. Early Michael Mann would never let his affection sour as it does here. Connie’s fatalistic course of action is inevitably greeted with punishment, but the arrest is neither moralizing nor comforting. His privilege is enabling, above all else, the collateral damage he inflicts on the lives of those with whom he comes in contact is infinitely more damning than Pattinson’s last scene. Surely, that same scene shifts its focus, finding a frame with the closest thing to a wiser perspective, to the tragic events outside the cop car. This is not the story of Connie, but a Romance Apocalypse tour of New York City. It’s just pretty darn easy for Connie to run his shit here. Healing comes from the system healing the people, and the people healing the system. Pulling one over on the audience is not a victimless crime, but that’s sort of what you sign up for. Walk across the room if you ever feel powerless. End credits. Pet the crocodiles.
‘Roma’ review: Alfonso Cuarón’s black-and-white family drama is nothing short of a masterpiece
As someone who has long championed Alfonso Cuarón‘s 2006 dystopian thriller Children of Men as being the best film in the Oscar-winning Mexican filmmaker’s career, I was astonished when I slowly began to realize about halfway through watching Roma, Cuarón’s latest offering, that my opinion about Children of Men was no longer the same.
Roma, Cuarón’s semi-autobiographical black-and-white love letter to his hometown of Mexico City and the women who raised him, is arguably his best work to date for an assortment of different reasons, mostly because it’s a stunning achievement not only in Cuarón’s personal filmography, but rather cinema as a whole.
Set in the early 1970s in the bustling, upper-middle-class neighborhood of Colonia Roma, Cuarón’s most personal project to date follows the day-to-day life of Cleo (played extraordinarily by newcomer Yalitza Aparicio), who is based on Cuarón’s actual real-life nanny, Liboria “Libo” Rodríguez, to whom the film is dedicated to.
Cleo is relatively quiet and mostly keeps to herself as she does chores around the house of the family she works for like picking up laundry, cleaning up dog poop, and making sure all of the bedrooms in the house are tidy. She even puts the children to bed late at night and is there to wake them up bright and early in the morning when it’s time to start getting ready for school.
In her off hours, Cleo enjoys gossiping and reminiscing with Adela (Nancy Garcia), the family’s cook, and going to the local movie theater with Fermin (Jorge Antonio Guerrero), a martial-arts enthusiast with whom Cleo shares somewhat of a distant relationship with—a relationship that will eventually set them even further apart as the film goes on.
It’s somewhat of a shame that not every person will have the pleasure of experiencing Roma, which is currently playing in theaters in select cities before launching globally on Netflix later this month, the same way I did, in a theater, to fully absorb Cuarón’s masterpiece for the remarkable piece of work that is truly is.
Cuarón’s exquisite 65mm black-and-white photography beautifully captures every detail that comes into frame, making excellent use of long takes and wide shots, while Cuarón’s equally impressive editing allows the story to unfold with an incredible amount of patience, yet it does so with efficiency, never letting the film lag for even a second.
There’s also something to be said about Skip Lievsay’s marvelously complex sound design, whether it’s the sound of a splash of water hitting the ground or gunshots ringing out as a student protest turns deadly, and Eugenio Caballero’s meticulous production design, which utilizes sets that are so simple, yet so intricate at the same time.
A film that is packed with an overwhelming amount of beauty, emotion, and intimacy, Roma is a mighty impressive feat on the part of Cuarón and evidently sets forth a new standard when it comes to this type of personal filmmaking. Or perhaps just filmmaking in general.
Roma’s limited theatrical run is currently ongoing in select cities including New York, Los Angeles, and London. Find out if it’s playing in your city here. The film will launch globally on Netflix on December 14.
‘The Favourite’ review: Yorgos Lanthimos’ oddball period piece runs out of steam far too soon
A year after the release of his brutal, absurdist dark family drama The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Greek auteur Yorgos Lanthimos is back again with The Favourite, an unsurprisingly bizarre, rather over-the-top glimpse into the life of England’s least known ruler, Queen Anne, and the lesbian love triangle at the center of her life in the early 18th century.
The story of The Favourite is actually grounded in some fact, if you can believe it, and follows an obese, gout-ridden, emotionally unstable Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) as she struggles to help guide the country of England through its ongoing war with France from inside the confines of her Royal Palace, a place where she spends most of her time holed up in her bedroom.
Oddly enough, though, for some who’s a Queen and ruler of her nation, Anne is deeply insecure and highly susceptible to manipulation, and so she yearns for the love, attention, and guidance of Lady Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz), her life-long friend, political advisor, secret lover, and one of few people who know how to keep her in check.
But when Sarah’s younger, mud-covered peasant of a cousin Abigail (Emma Stone) comes around the palace looking for a job, before eventually becoming a royal herself, things begin to take an absolute turn for the worst as the two battle it out for Anne’s love—even if it means lying to and taking advantage of the Queen herself.
While there’s certainly something to be said about Colman, Weisz, and Stone, who are all beyond extraordinary in their respective roles and deliver what are undoubtedly some of the best performances of the year, I couldn’t help but feel somewhat annoyed by some of The Favourite‘s wild antics and extreme nature.
By the middle of the second act, it felt as though the once witty, profanity-laden jokes had grown old, while the story itself had quickly begun to lose the momentum it so excellently was able to keep up during the first half of the film, leading us into a ridiculously abrupt final act, which features an ending that felt more like a cop-out than anything else.
Nonetheless, though, I still very much admire and respect The Favourite‘s commitment to being an oddball period piece. The posh costume and production designs are downright stunning, to say the least, and the soundtrack, which includes classical compositions from the likes of Handel and Bach, fits it all just so well.
Not to mention there’s Irish cinematographer Robbie Ryan’s dark, gritty 35mm photography, which captures every moment in the film in such incredible fashion. Perhaps he utilized the fisheye lenses one too many times for my liking but the rest of his camerawork is so flawlessly executed that it’s an issue I’m willing to let slide.
Despite its flaws, many of which I believe to be more the fault of Lanthimos than it is of screenwriters Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara, The Favourite is still an exceptional piece of work and will undoubtedly continue to win over the support of awards voters as the Oscar race rolls on thanks in part to its three leading ladies.
‘Shoplifters’ review: Hirokazu Kore-eda’s latest offers an intimate look at Japan’s underclass
In addition to evoking a barrage of emotions, Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Palme d’Or-winner Shoplifters is a film that begs many questions, especially in its final act, that have to do with family: What defines a family? Can you choose your family? Does giving birth to a child automatically grant you the title of being a parent?
To some, those questions are probably quite simple to answer. To others, they might be a little more complex. But Shoplifters, which opens in New York and Los Angeles today, dares to challenge each of those questions, making the case that it is love, not blood, that defines a family. And it makes a pretty good case too.
Following the day-to-day lives of a dysfunctional band of outsiders living in a modest home in contemporary Tokyo, the film mostly follows Osamu (Lily Franky, a face you may recognize from Kore-eda’s 2013 effort Like Father Like Son) who, when he isn’t shoplifting goods from the local supermarket or convenience store with the assistance of Shota (Kairi Jyo), the boy who he refers to as his son, works as a laborer at a construction site.
His wife, Noboyu (Sakura Andô), is also in the business of theft, pocketing the small, forgotten items she finds in the laundry she cleans at the hotel she works at. Another young woman who lives with the family, Aki (Mayu Matsuoka), makes a living by performing for horny, lonely men at a local peep show venue. The matriarch of the makeshift family, Hatsue (Kirin Kiki, who passed away in September and delivers a wonderfully charming final performance here), generates income via her late husband’s pension.
Between the work they do at their full-time jobs and selling off the items that they steal along the way, like a pair of pricey fishing rods, the family manages to just barely get by. But things become increasingly more difficult for them when the arrival of an abused, quiet little girl named Juri (Miyu Sasaki) puts them in a tough situation, which forces them to make an even tougher decision; one that can tear them apart for good.
Shoplifters, a film that is as socially conscious as it is empathetic, never feels like some sort of poverty porn that has been robbed of all of its humanity, which is something it easily could’ve been had it fallen into the wrong hands. Kore-eda handles the film with such incredible love, care, and affection, painting this captivating portrait of poverty and the underclass using his unique style and expert storytelling.
A master of his craft and one of the greatest filmmakers Japan has to offer, Kore-eda proves once again with Shoplifters, a rare treat of a film and one of the best in Kore-eda’s career, ranking among the likes of Still Walking and After Life, that he knows the definition of family better than almost anyone else.
Shoplifters is now playing in New York and Los Angeles and will be released in additional select cities in the weeks to come.