When I think of Good Time, the latest feature film by the Safdie brothers, one word comes to mind: seedy.
The film is labeled as a crime-drama but, in reality, is much more layered. Good Time tells the story of Constantine “Connie” Nikas (a spectacular Robert Pattinson), and his sordid journey in trying to bail his younger and mentally handicapped brother, Nick (played by Benny Safdie, who co-directed with brother Josh), out of jail after a bank robbery goes awry.
The majority of the film takes place over the course of a single night in Queens as viewers follow Connie throughout the sleazy and oft-overlooked underbelly of New York’s streets. Clocking in at around 100 minutes, Good Time moves at a good clip, leaving little time for its characters (or viewers) to breathe a sigh of relief.
Maybe that’s because of master cinematographer Sean Price Williams’ super-tight closeups or choice of unrelenting and saturated neon. Perhaps it’s the somewhat sinister, off-putting look of the therapist’s (Peter Verby) face as he questions a confused and catatonic Nick in the opening scene. Definitely, it’s the unsettling but brilliant score by Oneohtrix Point Never.
Another huge driving force is Robert Pattinson. The former Twilight star delivers a career-defining performance as the skeevy Connie, a character he spent months developing with the directors and writers. And the hard work certainly paid off.
Pattinson is completely transformative in the role as viewers are invited to descend into Connie’s twisted, cringey, odyssey and world of scumbag tendencies, where the thrills are cheap and the cons abound. Pattinson manages to do what many actors attempt but ultimately fail at: convincing the audience that they aren’t watching him play a character, but that he really is Connie.
Most of the supporting actors have considerably less screen time than Pattinson, but still manage to leave quite an impression regardless. Ben Safdie’s Nick is a rare opportunity to feel empathy in Good Time. He’s almost heartbreaking as the younger and vulnerable Nikas brother, a menacing presence due to his large stature, but in reality is more of a gentle giant. One who may lash out physically when things don’t go his way, behavior no doubt cultivated and likely encouraged by his toxic older brother, but is nonetheless unassuming and innocent (think George Milton in Of Mice and Men).
That the younger Safdie both starred in and co-directed the film is in itself impressive (fun fact: he was also a boom operator), but to do both with as much style and nuance truly elevates Good Time, and everyone involved in creating the film, to another level.
The underrated Jennifer Jason Leigh has even less screen time as Corey, Connie’s erratic, occasional girlfriend who is powerless against his deceitful charm. While not horribly relevant to the plot, Corey embodies the type of people Connie associates himself with, as well as the type of people who are willing and even eager to associate themselves with the likes of him (one wouldn’t necessarily say Corey is emotionally stable). Leigh’s performance is believable and indeed does add a layer of depth to Connie (as well as a bit of comedic relief, in a sad sort of way), but is unfortunately nonexistent after about seven minutes onscreen, a bit easy to overlook in the shuffle of the male-centered themes and cast.
Safdie and company enlisted Buddy Duress to play Ray, making it the second collaboration between the gentlemen (the first being Heaven Knows What, the last feature film the Safdies directed), and Duress holds his own and then some next to the more experienced Pattinson. He is often hilarious as the alcoholic sidekick-esque Ray, an ex Rikers Island inmate. In real life, the actor really was an inmate at Rikers who was imprisoned shortly before Heaven Knows What premiered to rave reviews at the Venice Film Festival in 2014.
During his incarceration he communicated regularly with Josh, the older Safdie who co-writes the screenplays with Ronald Bronstein, and kept a journal at Josh’s request. Duress and his stories and journal eventually became a huge inspiration to the Safdies for a new project that would eventually blossom into Good Time. And, while he doesn’t exactly have conventional acting experience, Duress is an absolute delight (and horror) to watch and more importantly, experience.
Stylistically, the film is a standout piece of cinema. What’s more, it also manages to have some depth to accompany the fast-paced, hold-your-breath action and acting. Admittedly, it can feel a little too convenient or forced at times when it comes to social commentary, something that isn’t always the best fit in an action film, but it’s never distracting. It never detracts from the integrity of the film. If viewers are looking for that commentary they will certainly find it in a few places, scenes that inevitably solidify themselves as conversation-starters. But if they aren’t, viewers can still count on the film to be one hell of a wild ride.
Ultimately, Good Time is much more than just an action or drama film. It cannot and should not be reduced to just one thing. It transcends genres. It burrows itself into the psyche. It stays there for days, and it makes you think.
The Safdie Brothers call it “termite art.”
Good Time is a great time, in the worst (or is it the best?) possible way. There’s no one singular thing that defines the film’s grit. Rather, it’s an amalgamation of these aforementioned details (and more) that evoke a sense of urgency, anxiety, and an almost seasick-type nausea. Like any good car crash, you just can’t help but stare at the chaos unfold.