Cast: Robert Pattinson, Ben Safdie, Buddy Duress, Taliah Webster, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Barkhad Abdi, Peter Verby
Director: Joshua Safdie, Ben Safdie
Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes
by Jericho Cerrona
If a word comes to mind in regards to the work of directors Joshua and Ben Safdie, it's desperation, seeing as how their films are littered with characters hustling, scrambling, and urgently trying to survive in a society which either tosses them aside or disregards their existence altogether. From their jittery debut about a questionable part-time father, Daddy Longlegs, to the manic hyper-intensity of street addicts flailing about in Heaven Knows What, the Safdie's cinema is one of extreme desperation. Shooting in a loose, semi-realistic approach with handheld cameras, a mix of professional and non-actors, and an obvious love of the seedier aspects of New York City, the brothers have, in only four features, developed an idiosyncratic style all their own. Their latest riff on Scorsese's After Hours by way of 90s grunge neo-noir, Good Time, sees them entering straightforward genre territory while still retaining their distinct aesthetic.
The film opens with a scene taking place between a psychiatrist (Peter Verby), and Nick (Ben Safdie), a young man with a learning disability in which slurred utterances give way to tears just as Connie (Robert Pattinson) bursts into the room to upend the meeting. Nick and Connie are brothers, with the later believing the entire psychiatry angle is a crock as he pulls his sibling out of the situation in order to enlist his help with a bank heist. After their robbery meets a snag, Nick ends up in jail on Riker's Island, while Connie stealthily evades the police en route to coming up with a plan to procure his brother's bail money. What follows is a harrowingly kinetic thriller which rarely lets up; giving one the sense that characters reacting in flight or fight response to the flurry of drugs, cash, and poverty are hopeless in a way which blurs real-life socioeconomic concerns with the visceral pulse of genre filmmaking.
As the low-rent criminal given to blending into different sketchy situations, Pattinson draws on his good looks and charm to create a character residing in a moral grey area. There's a scruffy bravado at play here in the way Connie turns on the charisma if the circumstances call for it, while at other moments, his amped-up intensity means he's likely to fly off the handle without warning. Whether it be extorting an older woman, Cory (Jennifer Jason Leigh) who seems infatuated with him, or weaseling his way into the apartment of Haitian grandmother, Annie (Gladys Mathon), and her teenage granddaughter, Chrystal (Taliah Webster), Connie is a deft manipulator of those either below or just at the poverty line. Though the film stops from time to time to allow quiet moments (such as Connie and Chrystal's initial sweet-natured rapport, which turns creepy on a dime), it's primary mode is one of near-constant movement. Aided immensely by composer Oneohtrix Point Never's throbbing electronic score (often played very loud in the sound mix), Good Time emerges as a nightmarish trip through the city's grimy underbelly, shot through neon-lit signs and darkened corridors by the gifted cinematographer Sean Prince Williams.
Once dim-witted fellow criminal Ray (Buddy Duress) shows up mid-way through, the film splinters off in unpredictable directions, upping the tension as the noose tightens further around Connie's neck. Throughout, the Safdie's make unorthodox decisions; such as a lengthy montage flashback detailing Ray's prior criminal behavior which led him to come in contact with Connie, and most strikingly, shooting the climatic chase on the street from a zoom lens atop a high-rise apartment building. Such directorial choices feel distinctive given that, at the end of the day, this is a fairly linear chase picture eschewing character development, backstory, and extended dialogue-heavy encounters.
There's a tragic undercurrent running through the pulsating veins of Good Time, but the Safdie's never push things into the realm of didacticism. Pattinson's wounded vulnerability, masked by freewheeling energy and swagger, suggests Connie has at least a measure of self-awareness. Despite his resourcefulness, Connie's innate desperation means that he comes to understand and accept the inevitability of his fate. This desperation, so consistently present in all of the Safdie's work, becomes a fulcrum in which to view the typical anti-hero narrative as a crutch, and ultimately lends an unexpected emotional power to the film's haunting final frames.