It’s a unique achievement when a film can possess an unusual sense of beauty while also keeping its audience on edge, and directors Ben and Joshua Safdie’s Good Time accomplishes both. Here we have a protagonist who’s rather detestable overall, but somehow still sympathetic enough that I was still hooked.
In this movie, Robert Pattinson ventures through one of the more fascinating looking underworlds I’ve seen in a while, aided by a story that refuses to provide easy answers to the viewers. It’s told with a nervous, desperate energy that pulses through every frame.
At first glance, the relationship between Connie Nikas (Pattinson) and his brother Nick (Ben Safdie, with a great performance in his own right) seems strong enough- evident when he angrily interrupts Nick’s session with his therapist (Peter Verby), not happy about the doctor’s inquiries into a violent altercation with their grandmother.
In reality, Connie and Nick are partners-in-crime for a bank robbery- the duo is after $65,000, with the hopes of living on their own together. But a well-hidden dye pack foils their scheme, and Nick is apprehended and sent to Rikers Island- where he endures violent abuse from the guards and prisoners alike.
Since the dye pack dirtied up too much of the robbery cash, Connie sets out on a mission to gather the $10K needed for Nick’s bail. His girlfriend’s (Jennifer Jason Leigh) emotional pleas to her mother over the phone don’t work, so over the course of one night, Connie journeys through Queens in a mad search for the money. He runs into a wide variety of seedy personalities in the process, most notably a local acid junkie named Ray (Buddy Duress) he meets through a mix-up, as well as innocent people who have the misfortune of encountering him.
Pattinson’s performance has a distinct energy, almost like Al Pacino’s work early in his career. Despite the fact he’s playing such a morally bankrupt and pathetic character, he has clear, understandable motivations, and always remains mesmerizing. There are points when Connie’s arc is downright infuriating, but he’s very convincing as a man whose life is spiraling out of control- and who can’t stop himself from spreading chaos wherever he goes.
Some of the ways in which he hustles out of bad situations will remind audiences of how people of color are still unfairly stereotyped in this country today. First-time actors Gladys Mathon and Taliah Lennice Webster are very appealing as Annie and her granddaughter Crystal, and their sense of charity towards Connie quickly goes awry. Barkhad Abdi has a rather brief role as a security guard, but it’s for one of the film’s most suspenseful and thought-provoking scenes.
The movie has a visual flair that’s all its own. It’s a unique mix of modern techniques, combined with a sense of urgency and grittiness that feels similar to 1970s thrillers like Taxi Driver and Dog Day Afternoon. Sean Price Williams’ cinematography is eye-popping. He employs stark shades of purple, red and green light over the characters in many scenes, shooting in 35mm with intense close-ups. That adds a lot to the Safdie brothers’ direction, which emphasizes paranoia and a constant atmosphere of danger behind every door or corner.
Good Time is ultimately a tragic tale of someone who, even though they have an understandable goal, nevertheless can’t stop themselves from sinking into an abyss. Surrounded by equally sleazy lowlifes and his goal of bringing his brother home slipping away, Connie becomes more desperate as the manhunt for him intensifies- leading him to make gradually worst choices. As the story progresses, we’re forced to question whether or not Connie and Nick should even be together.
It’s a visually impressive neo-noir, as well as an interesting character study overall. I’ve never felt Pattinson has gotten his fair due for his acting chops, and this is another example of his appeal beyond his past teenybopper status. Strongly recommended!