Good Time exemplifies the phrase ‘watching a train wreck’ with its nerve wracking 101 minutes of observing scruffy, petty criminal Connie Nikas (Robert Pattinson) spiral into the dark depths of law-breaking; from robbing a bank to becoming a fully-fledged fugitive. Good Time is a super stylish, disconcertingly edgy drama with a thoroughly uneasy and downbeat mood intensified by a pulsating soundtrack, elevating the viewer’s experience to suspensful heights. This is the Sadfie Brothers (Ben and Josh) third full feature, where they refine their directorial talents of realistic portrayals of shady and sinister shenanigans of inner-city New York life.
Nick Nikas, played by Ben Safdie himself, is a mentally challenged young man who we find tearing up in a highly distressing therapy session, only for his brother Connie to barge into the room and whisk him away. In the following scenes, we find Connie and Nick in rubber masks, successfully robbing a bank of $65,000. Their exhilaration is short-lived as plans soon enough derail; the bank teller cleverly places an automated capsule along with the cash in their rucksack, which sure enough explodes in their getaway car releasing a dense fuchsia pink smoke staining the money, their faces and rapidly filling up the car, rendering the driver unconscious and the car predictably crashes. They flee the car scene and stash the money in the toilets of nearby Domino’s Pizza; only for then to be stopped in the street by the police.
Nick gets himself arrested whilst Connie manages to escape. Now Connie with his newly acquired fugitive status is on a mission to free his brother whose uncontrolled behaviour gets him beaten up in prison and subsequently hospitalized. Connie temporary recruits the help of his infatuated and slightly deranged girlfriend Corey (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to help pay Nick’s bail, although that proves a dead-end as her credit-card is rejected. Connie finally breaks the heavily bandaged and unconscious Nick out of the hospital only to discover soon after its actually not Nick he's released but rowdy, alcoholic convict Ray (Buddy Duress). Ray proves incredibly unreliable, a liability in-fact, but Connie is stuck as his options now are less than minimal.
The Safdie brothers are carving their names as the purveyors of the dark depths of New York‘s urban landscape as the city features abundantly in their films. The city’s plethora of sketchy, colourful characters seem to frequent their films regularly, literally that is. The Safdies employ non-actors for most of their parts who they come across from various New York drug scenes. Arielle Holmes, a recovering heroin addict, wrote and starred in the brother’s previous feature Heaven Knows What, who they met through acquaintances, along with her friend Buddy Duress, on parole at the time, who also stars in Good Time.
As well street kids, the Safdies’ on this occasion have attracted a bonafide Hollywood star: Pattinson, a fan of their work, personally got in touch with them to ask if he could be in any of their upcoming films; spurring the brothers on to create Good Time. A move that will prove rewarding, as Pattinson is truly exceptional as the dishevelled, low-life Connie; a testament perhaps to his underrated acting talents. He disappears in the role; managing to fuse a violent, delinquent edge with an almost favourable average goofy youngish bloke next door. Furthermore, his haphazard delinquency juxtaposes his over-protective behaviour towards his brother which is endearing but also exhibits an intrinsic adeptness; you actually believe for most of the film he's going to make it.
Nick Safdie is similarly impressive as the younger brother; effortlessly portraying the mentally challenged Nick; a well-natured, vulnerable, boyish young man who on the flipside becomes easily aggravated and unpredictable. The film also features independent film’s big heavyweight, the one and only Jennifer Jason Leigh who is expectedly superb in perhaps a too short role as the erratic Corey. A trashy, unhinged older girlfriend, who Connie easily manipulates; his meager interest in her and his fake promises of fancy tropical getaways are enough to keep her enticed.
The Safdie’s directorial style is drenched in hyperrealism. Scenes possess a gritty and gloomy look enhanced by the grainy, hazy texture that scenes are given contributing to a harrowing and unsettling sensation. The events unfolding seem incredibly real and plausible, even as the heist takes on ridiculous proportions. A testament to the brothers’ ability to play around with tension which pulls the viewer by fluctuating plot pace, from slow to fast and back again; always depending on the situation Connie finds himself in and then perfectly reflecting this and amplifying it with the use of dramatic heavy basslines and austere synthesized sounds of music producer Oneohtrix Point Never.
Good Time is a thoroughly gripping and stellar effort. The Safdie brothers are on the verge of creating a whole genre of film-making of the other own. Featuring a career moment for Pattinson with his superior performance but also the most noteworthy element of the film is its numerous secondary characters that Connie meets along the way. They give such naturalistic deliveries and vivid depictions that they enrich the plot dramatically, adding layer of troubling realness which magnifies the viewers’ suspense.
Good Time is out now.
Words by Daniel Theophanous @danny_theo_