Watching the Safdie Brothers’ Cannes-winning Good Time (2017) is likely one of the closest experiences to dropping acid, and there’s no telling whether it’s a good or bad trip. Soaked in the same liquid LSD that perpetually keeps Robert Pattinson’s Connie Nikas in bad company and bathed in the grimy streets of Queens, NY, the crime thriller lives up to its status as one of my all time favorite films.
The storyline of Good Time is not unfamiliar to those accustomed to the genre: a bank robbery gone wrong forces Connie to come up with the funds to bail out his imprisoned brother. As the night progresses in equal parts euphoria and distress, however, Good Time‘s hallucinatory effect distorts the senses with neon lights and electric hums that can’t help but take viewers along for the ride. The difficult prospect of luring audiences to welcome criminals and their shady dealings is uncomplicated and ultimately satisfied by the film’s suspension of decency wherein the antihero is worth rooting for.
Like it or not, movie antiheroes are flawed in the same ways that we are. The conflation of protagonist and antagonist qualities reveals our own conflicted character, and the subtleties of the antihero’s traits match the messiness of our own lives. If anything, the presentation of antiheroes produces a cathartic effect by purging us of the morally ambiguous acts committed onscreen. Yet another plunge deeper into this rabbit hole of resonating with those on the fringes of upright living explains how antiheroes even provide insight into society as a whole.
Granted, there are indeed villainous portrayals of truly evil people, and the unjustifiable acts they commit oftentimes mirror the atrocities of actual historical figures. Here’s a simple rationale to clarify such misconceptions: heroes do good things for good reasons, antiheroes do bad/good things for good/bad reasons, and villains do bad things for bad reasons. While grossly oversimplified, this recipe for acknowledging how the rise in the antihero reflects today’s revival of postmodernism only calls for a dash of realism and a sprinkle of nihilism. Look no further than the millennial generation, myself included, whose cynical attitudes are much like the detached irony of pop culture’s most infamous antiheroes.
In making the radical decision to side with Good Time‘s antihero, we can contemplate the paradoxical unity of protagonist and antagonist features, as well as how such multilayered representations exhibit cinema’s greatest value: facilitating empathy. The Safdie Brothers are experts at conditioning viewers to adopt this mentality, inviting those with preconceived notions of knights in shining armor to walk in the shoes of lesser characters in both Good Time and the dazzling Uncut Gems (2019). The dramatic range of their lead actors and city landscape are immensely entertaining, although, most importantly, both films boast a tour de force in breaking us out of our comfort zones. The payoff is worth far more than any expenses, for simply pitting good against evil denies morality in those cases where the complexity of people’s motives and actions warrants a more considerate approach.
This newfound approach to assessing characters sheds light on the growth mindset Pattinson has developed over time, especially since his transformation is itself more of a dynamic narrative than a static maneuver. There are points in each of our lives where we decide to adopt a new stance or worldview and stick with it, and Pattinson is no exception to the rule. Following his early fame with the Twilight series and beginning with his redefining performance in Cosmopolis (2012), the actor-model-musician-philanthropist has never looked back. With High Life (2019) and The Lighthouse (2019) under his belt and Tenet (2020) and The Batman (2021) on the horizon, Pattinson refuses to tire of tackling some new ambition.
In extending compassion to the antiheroes of film when the very concept of justice is at stake, we develop a deeper appreciation for the inextricable connection between growth and heroism. Viewing films from this ethical angle teaches audiences that sympathizing with contradictory views is a prerequisite for growth, much in the same way that accepting the flexibility of one’s masked identity is needed in order to battle society’s darkest foes. The releases of The Dark Knight (2008) and Watchmen (2009) are no doubt responsible for this shift towards more nuanced characters in superhero movies, and hopefully we can expect a similarly introspective take on the Caped Crusader in The Batman. In defense of the antihero (without advocating for the devil), the ebbs and flows of life do not discriminate against those who seem impervious to the law, just as movie heroes fall victim to the same weaknesses as the rest of us.