Directors: Ben Safdie / Josh Safdie
Starring: Robert Pattinson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Ben Safdie, Barkhad Abdi, Buddy Duress, Taliah Webster
What will it take for R-Patz to shed his ridiculous old nickname and past exploits?
A movie like this.
The Safdie brothers are back and are getting grimier. Good Time is bathed in New York neon and grunginess and wears its dirt with pride. It’s not about street cleanliness though, the movie follows two brothers of differing abilities through one adrenalin-fuelled night that constantly has the lead teetering on the sharp edge of a knife evading police capture.
It’s a bit mad.
Connie Nikas (Pattinson) is a man with a plan and a man on a mission. After interrupting a therapy session for his mentally-handicapped brother Nick (Safdie), he kits his brother out for a risky bank robbery – the brothers aim to buy a farm in Virginia, and this is their ticket to ride. Garbed in rubber masks and construction clothing, the pair calmly demands $65,000 from the bank cashier via a handwritten note and make their casual getaway after receiving the loot. Nothing ever goes to plan, however, as a hidden dye pack explodes in their getaway showering them both in red dye, and killing their driver for good measure.
Though initially successful in evading police capture, an altercation with the street beat leads to a furious chase through the streets and malls of Queens until Nick is detained and arrested, whilst Connie escapes. Unable to corral the $10,000 bail required for Nick’s release from his jittery girlfriend Corey (Leigh), Connie plans to bust him out of the hospital he has since been transferred to (after a prison brawl) – but he’s in for a surprise…and a long night.
Good Time unravels like an LSD trip (the drug heavily featured in the movie), it’s unpredictable, fluctuating with every event and mood shift and leaves you feeling peculiar afterwards. The movie throbs with an overwhelming sense of angst and alarm that never seems to let up – partly due to the claustrophobic cinematography from Sean Price Williams, the disorientating electro-pounds of Oneohtrix Point Never’s soundtrack and the superb wired, edgy lead performance of Pattinson. It’s an experience rooted in alarming realism, no doubt.
Robert Pattinson delivers a career-topping performance as Connie, a man so desperate to help his brother (believing he can’t survive without him), he can’t help himself from falling deeper into trouble with every step. Connie is no criminal mastermind, leading with impulse, it’s hard to decide whether to root for this guy – he’s generally non-violent, cares deeply for his brother yet seemingly will drop anyone when the time calls and there’s an undeniable air of racism over him. It’s a beguiling turn brimming with a nervous yet electrifying energy and is utterly engaging. Compelling, magnetic and with a whiff of Pacino’s glory days, this is one of the year’s top performances.
Sean Price Williams and the Safdie’s landscape bathes New York in grubby tones and lighting, he can’t be accused of trying to glamorise the underbelly, though there are plenty of well-shot scenes throughout – the abandoned amusement park has a menacing appeal, the cramped apartment where Connie finds fleeting solace with teenager Crystal (Webster) is oppressive and the various shots of Pattinson swathed in neon glow lend a near-ethereal feeling to the movie (and character). The fidgety cinéma-vérité close-up camerawork and tight framing only further the anxiety and lingering panic, but thankfully it never becomes too distracting as to take away from the performances.
The ‘action’ of Good Time is generally pretty good. The chases feel frantic, but never overly edited and the fight scenes have a thudding brutality to them (the sound design is spot on). As the third act arrives, and a soda bottle of LSD becomes the McGuffin, the pace ramps up and the more action elements become more prevalent – though the directors smartly keep the tone consistent with the rest of the movie.
Through the chaos, nervousness, desperation and impulse, there is an element of emptiness to the movie. It has a well-written and smart plot, however, something doesn’t fully land. It’s fair to say that without Pattinson’s tour-de-force performance, the movie would suffer and his character is really the only one worth investing in. Nick is given interludes and afforded plenty of pathos, however without the lead performance the movie feels shallow and lacking in anything tangible to cling to – there’s a noticeable lack of depth here.
Good Time isn’t a movie that delivers on its title in terms of the feel-good factor, but it’s a solid enough crime caper. The movie succeeds largely thanks to a lead performance that carries it across the line, but there’s enough here to suck you in and take you on a trip.
November 8th 2017