Editor’s Note: Good Time is currently playing in wide theatrical release.
Post-Twilight, Robert Pattinson had two, equally valid paths he could take: He could parlay his relative fame and notoriety into similar leading roles in big-budget, disposable entertainment or leverage that same fame and notoriety into far more challenging, if less commercially viable, indie roles. Like his one-time onscreen and offscreen romantic partner, Kristen Stewart, Pattinson chose the second, less traveled path, actively seeking out anti-romantic roles, twice with David Cronenberg (Cosmopolis, Map to the Stars), once with Werner Herzog (Queen of the Desert), once with David Michôd (The Rover), and most recently, James Gray (The Lost City of Z). With Good Time, the latest effort from Ben and Josh Safdie (Heaven Knows What, Daddy Longlegs), self-styled auteurs of lowlife cinema, Pattinson continues his winning streak, delivering a ground-up, emotionally centered, authentic performance as Constantine “Connie” Nikas, a marginal, marginalized thief with a near fatal soft spot for his developmentally disabled brother, Nick (Ben Safdie).
The Safdie Brothers have a keenly developed sense of the absurd and the farcical, at least where Connie’s concerned. They betray a Coen Brothers-like pleasure in torturing their central character, putting Connie through one darkly, cosmically comic scrape after another.
A tense, taut, crime-thriller with a throwback, Tangerine Dream-inspired score by Oneohtrix Point Never (Daniel Lopatin), Good Time purposely sets aside backstory and exposition from the get go, throwing moviegoers head first into an increasingly excruciating scene between a distraught Nick and an overly solicitous social worker, Peter (Peter Verby). The social worker might have Nick’s best intentions in mind, but his solution, supervised, group-home care that would separate Connie and Nick, brings Nick to tears and Connie into an agitated, angry state. Connie’s livewire, combative attitude immediately marks him as a member of New York City’s seemingly permanent underclass: He’s a hustler, a user, and an abuser, working every possible angle to gain every possible advantage from every situation and every person that crosses his path. Nick offers Connie the only real, genuine connection to another human being. Maybe he’s read John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men” one too many times – or maybe the Safdie Brothers did – but Connie imagines a future where he and Nick can live in peace on a farm in Virginia free from government interference or money concerns.
That hustler thing, though, means Connie doesn’t have a steady gig, but he has big ideas – or rather one big idea, the same big idea that crosses the mind of low-level, blue-collar criminals – on how to rectify the money problem: Rob a local bank of $65,000. Connie’s tendency toward screwing up everything, of course, means it’s doomed to failure. At first, though, the robbery goes shockingly well. Wearing African-American masks that hide their real identities – an obvious commentary by the Safdie Brothers on the pernicious presence of racial stereotypes Connie and Nick use to their immediate advantage – Connie and Nick make their escape, but before long, everything goes sideways, they’re on the run from the police, and Connie finds himself separated from Nick, Connie on the outside with a bagful of tainted cash and Nick on the inside, arrested for the robbery. With his brother thrown into a holding cell on Riker’s Island, Connie turns to increasingly desperate measures to raise the bail money for Nick’s release.
A tense, taut, crime-thriller with a throwback, Tangerine Dream-inspired score by Oneohtrix Point Never (Daniel Lopatin), Good Time purposely sets aside backstory and exposition from the get-go.
The combination of Connie’s desperation and his hustler mentality marks anyone who enters Connie’s orbit as a potential resource to be exploited for cash, comfort, or both. Connie attempts to con his sometime girlfriend, Corey Ellman (Jennifer Jason Leigh), to help with the bail money, but once he learns that Nick’s been hospitalized in a prison fight, he gets the not-bright, if ballsy, idea to break out Nick from the hospital instead. Only the Safdie Brothers have a keenly developed sense of the absurd and the farcical, at least where Connie’s concerned. They betray a Coen Brothers-like pleasure in torturing their central character, putting Connie through one darkly, cosmically comic scrape after another. Connie acquires an unwilling, unwitting companion, Ray (Buddy Duress), who’s Connie’s near equal in IQ-challenged petty criminality and vacuous verbosity.
The Safdie Brothers match Pattinson and Duress’ individual and collective performances with visual pyrotechnics of their own, swapping out an early reliance on claustrophobic close-ups, beginning with the notably disorientating scene between Nick and the social worker that opens Good Time, for a cinema vérité-inspired, often exhilarating mix of location shooting, hyper-active editing, and dense, propulsive plotting. Add in Pattinson’s central performance, subtract the sum total of the Safdie Brothers cinematic and literary influences (Of Mice and Men, Dog Day Afternoon, Straight Time, among others) and Good Time emerges as the next, necessary step in the Safdie Brother’s evolution into top-tier, must-watch filmmakers.
A tense, taut, crime-thriller with a throwback, Tangerine Dream-inspired score by Oneohtrix Point Never, Good Time purposely sets aside backstory and exposition from the get-go.