Good Time‘s inspired style, coupled with Pattinson’s compelling performance, are enough to carry the film past its narrative shortcomings.
Constantine ‘Connie’ Nikas (Robert Pattinson) is a young man living in New York who just wants to improve life for himself and his mentally-disabled brother Nick (Ben Safdie), by any means necessary. Rather than allowing his brother to be institutionalized for his behavior, Connie recruits Nick for a bank robbery that promises to be simple and make them some easy money. However, one unforeseen complication gives rise to yet another and before the Nikas brothers know it, the job has gone completely south, landing Nick in police custody and then prison in the process.
Determined to get his brother out of jail, Connie thus embarks upon a night-long quest that takes him into the city’s seedy underbelly, in order to find the additional money ($10,000) that he needs to make bail for Nick. As Connie’s journey becomes increasingly treacherous and violent, it becomes less and less a matter of whether or not Connie can “rescue” his brother from his situation – and more a question of whether or not Connie can rescue himself from a dark fate of his own.
The new film directed by brothers Ben and Josh Safdie (Daddy Longlegs, Heaven Knows What), Good Time is an adrenaline-fueled indie crime drama/thriller that doubles as an acting showcase for onetime Twilight franchise star, Robert Pattinson. Pattinson has spent the five years since the release of the Twilight finale, Breaking Dawn – Part 2, demonstrating his dramatic range by focusing on auteur-driven fare; that includes his collaborations with directors David Cronenberg (Map to the Stars) and James Grey (The Lost City of Z), among other noteworthy filmmakers. Fortunately, Pattinson’s work on Good Time gives him another feather to add to his acting cap. Good Time‘s inspired style, coupled with Pattinson’s compelling performance, are enough to carry the film past its narrative shortcomings.
As much as Pattinson is the star of Good Time, he’s nearly upstaged by the movie’s general aesthetic and technical elements. Good Time paints a vivid portrait of life in economically-destitute New York at night, often coloring its scenes with dazzling rays of neon red, blue and purple, yet capturing every squalid detail of its characters and scenery, at the same time. While Good Time has very much the look and feel of a micro-budgeted production, it creates a raw sense of gritty atmosphere through its unglamorous portrayal of the criminal underworld (literally) beneath NY’s towering skyline and upper-class society. Cinematographer Sean Price Williams (a frequent Alex Ross Perry collaborator who previously worked with the Safdies on Heaven Knows What) tends to photograph the proceedings here in closeup, in part to keep the movie constrained to the struggles of its characters. This makes it all the more effective when Good Time does film in wider shots, emphasizing just how small its players are in the eyes of the world.
Drawing from a script that Josh Safdie cowrote with Ronald Bronstein (who, as he did on Heaven Knows What, serves as both cowriter and coeditor here), Good Time is concerned with the difficulties that its working-class characters face – including, institutional barriers that are based on race and especially mental health – but never dives all that deeply into these issues, over the course of its primary single-night timeline. The increasingly outlandish series of events and plot points that transpire as Pattinson’s Connie Nikas strives to “save” his brother are befitting of the pulpy crime/Noir sub-genre that Good Time falls into, but clash with the film’s attempts to achieve realism and tend to be overly-telegraphed or contrived, along the way. Connie’s odyssey is meant to be an absurd one that both generates sympathy for his plight and explains the desperation that fuels his frequently-despicable behavior, but Good Time‘s habit of prioritizing surface-level thrills over richer plot/character development prevents it from achieving that goal.
Certain supporting characters in Good Time are likewise too thinly-sketched for their own good – namely, the two main female characters, in the forms of Connie’s older “girlfriend” Corey (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and Crystal (newcomer Taliah Webster), a teenager whom Connie seduces/forces into helping him along the way on his ill-advised journey. Pattison’s performance makes up for the film’s leaps in logic in these respects, by selling Connie as someone who has enough sleazy charm and actual desperation to believably convince those around him that they should help him, even when it’s glaringly obvious that he’s only using them. The character of Ray (Buddy Duress), a fellow criminal who is forced by circumstance to work with Connie, serves to allow Good Time to call out Connie for his terrible behavior, but that plot thread doesn’t get enough development to resonate as strongly as intended. On the other hand, despite being limited in his screen time, Ben Safdie is refreshingly down to earth and respectful in his own performance, making Connie’s brother Nick feel more like a real person and less like the stereotype of a mentally-handicapped individual.
Despite having mixed success when it comes to presenting Connie as both a complicated and engaging antihero, Good Time delivers on its own promise of thrills and flows along smoothly throughout its runtime, even with a narrative that is inherently episodic in structure. The movie finds a number of different, yet equally stylish ways to stage its various chase sequences, be it through creative use of settings (including, an amusement park ride, at one point) or by mixing things up in terms of camerawork (filming foot-chases both on the ground and from a bird’s-eye view). What really fuels Good Time‘s action, however, is a propulsive score composed by Oneohtrix Point Never (The Bling Ring) – one that can be overwhelming at times, but never fails to get the movie’s heartbeat racing.
As much a showcase for its directors’ style as it is Pattinson’s acting, Good Time is a solid race-against-the-clock thriller that falls short of being as socially-conscious or emotionally-resonant as it aims to be. Good Time doesn’t have as much plot substance to match its flashiness and its technical flourishes don’t always compliment its themes and ideas, either. The film nonetheless both illustrates that the Safdie brothers have a distinctive filmmaking voice (if one that is still developing) and further demonstrates Pattinson’s abilities, as an actor. While it’s not quite a late summer movie season release that demands to be seen on the big screen, Good Time offers enough of a… well, see the title, for fans of indie cinema especially to earn a recommendation.
Good Time is now playing in a semi-wide theatrical release in the U.S. It is 101 minutes long and is Rated R for language throughout, violence, drug use and sexual content.
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