Good Time (Sadie, 2017) and Dunkirk (Nolan, 2017)

Good Time is up there for my favorite film of the year. I love how much the Safdie’s shoot in close-up. The first scene – one of the best in the film – is so tight that you can feel the compression. There are so many moments in here where the concern is far away from establishing spatially and much more so with the frenetic tension of their tight frames. It’s pretty consistent throughout the film, though it opens up a bit in a great sequence at an amusement park.

Good Time was shot by Sean Price Williams and it looks amazing. So much neon! And I was really into how the filmmakers were pretty comfortable letting the image go to near underexposure at times. You can feel the film grain in those moments. This is a film that I think needed to be shot on 35.

Robert Pattinson is turning into a hell of an actor. He’s so good in this, as he has been in much of what I’ve seen him in recently (Maps to the Stars, The Childhood of a Leader, The Rover). Benny Safdie’s performance as Nick, Pattinson’s Connie’s brother, is also pretty brilliant. There’s an awesome moment when, at the beginning of the film, the two are robbing a bank. Nick wants to take his mask off and Connie won’t let him. It feels so kind. The same is true of the immediate aftermath when they’re in a back alley beginning their getaway. Connie’s lines – “I couldn’t have done this without you!” – are so obviously untrue and true at once. Another of my favorite parts of the film.

Is this film all handheld? I only started looking for it about 20 minutes in. Sometimes it’s so obviously so. But there are other times (the hospital sequence) where I couldn’t always tell if we were in really controlled handheld, or on a steadicam. Either way, that motion, and that motion that sometimes rides a line between fluid and unsteady, really works in here. It’s a frenetic film narratively, but there are long moments of calm in the midst of all the energy (I’m thinking in particular of a sequence at Crystal’s (Taliah Webster) house, where things just settle a bit) – I think that the camera does a nice job of not always just being one or the other.

Another thing that really struck me in here: in most films Connie would be really dumb. Like he would literally be written as an unintelligent character. But he’s pretty smart in this film. He makes quick, informed decisions, all for the sake of his brother. It makes me like him a lot. I see his brain work as he manipulates people and, while he’s not always pleasant, I like how hard he’s working for Nick. I wonder how much writers Ronald Bronstein and Josh Safdie struggled with the character, or at least how much he evolved. It’s a tightrope – there’s a moment at the end that pushes an extra amount of guilt onto his shoulders that’s a real gut punch.

Then there’s the score. I’m not the biggest fan of Oneohtrix Point Never, and it’s a hell of a risk in here (it’s so present) but it really pushes the film into something beyond just heist/road film. That’s sort of what it is, but this is a great example of form (including performance) transcending what is an already good script.

Dunkirk

This is one of my favorite Christopher Nolan films. I’d imagine I have some of the same issues with it that other people have. For me, it’s mainly two: the score is too much, and there’s too much on-the-nose sentimentality at the end. But otherwise, this is a really good film. The IMAX is breathtaking. The first time the image comes up in that format is really wonderful.

The first scene in Dunkirk is the best. It’s mostly silent storytelling, it drops us right into a beautifully dangerous situation, and the blocking (as the characters are first running down the street, in particular) is so good. It’s my favorite part of the film; I’ve sometimes wished that Nolan would rely less on dialogue, and when he does here, which is most of the film, it really soars.

What’s the difference between the score in Good Time and here in Dunkirk? I mean, both are really present, pretty loud, and unmistakable. I like the music in Dunkirk but it seems to lead the emotion too much, or Mickey Mouse too much. An example of the latter: just at the beginning of the stretcher sequence the music changes. It’s pluckiness feels like mimicry and it totally pulled me out of the beginning of the scene. Luckily I got past it, because this scene is also pretty awesome.

That’s another thing that I like about Dunkirk. I bet these are some of Nolan’s longest scenes. He stays with his characters for extended periods. He still cross-cuts, as he always does, but this time it’s across time, which is fun. Regardless, there are long scenes where we don’t change temporally or spatially and we just stay with one person. It works so well, particularly for me, on the land.

Another issue I’ve had with some past Nolan films is the performance of side characters. Here they’re great. There’s no weak link in Dunkirk. I really liked Mark Rylance, perhaps the most. His face is so expressive. He switches so easily from full-steam-ahead confidence, to crestfallen terror.

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About dcpfilm

Shooting, teaching, writing and watching the Phillies.
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2 Responses to Good Time (Sadie, 2017) and Dunkirk (Nolan, 2017)

  1. Hey, I hope all is well. Do you any of the behind the scenes story of this film? The Safdies have been making films for about ten years. Pattinson saw a still from one of their films on IndieWire, thought it looked interesting so he emailed them and it led to being cast in Good Time and, presumably, a higher budget and profile. DG

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    • dcpfilm says:

      Oh wow never heard that story! Amazing!

      I like the Safdie’s other stuff, which maybe I’ll get around to writing about, but I think this one is my favorite of theirs. Doesn’t hurt that it’s also genre, which I generally gravitate towards.

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