‘Good Time’ is that rare indie film that harks back to gritty ‘70s crime dramas like ‘Dog Day Afternoon’ and ‘Taxi Driver.’ The Safdie Brothers (Benny and Josh) turn the streets of New York City into a manic thrill ride. Shot in 35mm, the filmmakers establish an urgent and claustrophobic tone. The guerilla style hand-held camera work, the neon-lit cinematography and pulsating electronic soundtrack all factor into a sense of uneasiness throughout the story. Along with a revelatory performance by former ‘Twilight’ heartthrob Robert Pattinson, ‘Good Time’ is the indie crime thriller that is not to be missed at your local arthouse cinema.
In the explosive opening scene before the credits roll, the tension mounts. Connie Nikas (Pattinson) bursts into the room yelling at a counselor that his brother Nick (Benny Safdie who co-directed it) does not belong there. The location is a New York psychiatric facility. He grabs him and walks out of the building. Next thing we see is the two brothers donning masks and robbing a bank. The robbery is a complete fiasco and they breakaway running. Nick gets busted by the cops and Connie narrowly escapes. Connie begins a frantic journey through New York City trying to get his brother out of jail. Even though he’s a lowlife hood, Pattinson brings a likable quality to his character. It is the best performance of his career. Connie makes one bad decision after another that digs him deeper into a hole. He genuinely loves his brother but it is a destructive love causing more harm than good.
Pattinson has done some impressive indie work in ‘The Rover,’ ‘Map to the Stars’ and last year’s ‘The Lost City of Z.’ His exceptional performance in ‘Good Time’ should firmly establish him as an actor with serious chops. As his character sets out on a bizarre odyssey to raise 10K for a bail bondsman to get his brother out of Rikers Island, he lays on the charm and unscrupulously uses anyone that crosses his path. His on-again off-again girlfriend Corey (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is his ditzy sugar mama that is more than happy to max out her credit cards for Connie’s fleeting attention. Later in the film, he hides out in a Haitian immigrant’s house and clearly takes advantage of the woman’s teenage granddaughter, Crystal (Taliah Webster). Webster gives a breakout performance as the troubled teen. Connie even victimizes a black security guard at an amusement park played by Captain Phillips’ Barkhad Abdi.
This film may not get the attention it deserves at the box office but it is gritty, authentic cinema. The Safdie Brothers are young rising stars in the New York independent filmmaking scene. If you look back at Martin Scorsese’s earlier works, you will see the same kind of raw passion in their vibrant films. They profile imperfect characters that go on desperate odysseys that show their alienation from the world. These are people that must survive on the streets of New York with little education, opportunity or wealth. That’s why it is so brutally raw. It can be anyone that has fallen through the cracks of society and no matter how hard they try just cannot seem to get out of their miserable situation. Here’s a guy like Pattinson’s character Connie that knows how to outsmart others and survive on the streets but his scams end up hurting others around him like his mentally disabled brother, Nick. He means well but he impulsively acts and never thinks about the consequences of his poor decisions. That’s why it is so heartbreaking and compelling to watch the downward spiral.
‘Good Time’ is like watching a trainwreck before your eyes. You want to look away but you remind yourself that you are seeing two young auteurs just getting started in their careers. Cinephiles will admire Pattinson’s go-for-broke career-best performance. Put this modern crime drama on your must-see list.