The last film from brothers/directors Benny and Josh Safdie was the gut-wrenching Heaven Knows What; a bleak narrative of homelessness and heroin based on the unpublished manuscript of Arielle Holmes, who also played the lead Hannah. In some ways Good Time, the fifth feature from the brothers, shares noticeable similarities with its predecessor. Aside from the obvious backdrop of New York City, both films write valentine’s cards about the kind of love that can erode away a person’s identity and their relationships. In Heaven Knows What, it was Hannah’s all-consuming passion for her boyfriend and heroin. In Good Time, it’s a brotherly love that spreads through New York City like a virus.
Robert Pattinson plays Connie Nikas, a whip smart hood who is fiercely protective of his mentally challenged brother, Nick (Benny Safdie). Protective to the point of not seeing further than the end of his nose, Connie sees a bright future for the pair, but in order to secure that future he’s decided they need to rob a bank. In some ways, there’s a touch of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men in the film’s initial set up as motormouth Connie soothes the gentle Nick through the robbery for fear he’ll flair up and ruin it for both of them. Nick clearly idolises his brother and it’s this blind devotion that will lead him into the Gates of Hell. Panicking as they’re chased by police, Nick is arrested and Connie, now on the run, must track down $10,000 to secure his brother’s bail bond. From this point onwards, Good Time turns the old fashioned race against the clock into a sweaty, kinetic and brilliant assault on the senses.
As with Cosmopolis and The Rover, Pattinson proves himself to be an actor who truly inhabits the characters he’s given. Playing Connie, he is barely recognisable from his days as a glittery vampire, running through the streets of New York, looking for a way to save his brother, and fuelled by a heady concoction of love, self-righteousness and guilt. In the same way as Connie’s love poisons Nick’s life, so it does to seemingly everyone else Connie collides with over the course of this evening in Queens. His quick-wittedness and logical thinking seem to plunge him further into the mire, and those he reaches out for support are in danger of being dragged down with him. You don’t know whether you should be cheering Connie on to save his sibling, or keeping your fingers crossed that Nick never has to see him again.
As well as the aforementioned Safdie, Pattinson is surrounded by a strong support cast of professionals and non-professionals. On the professional side is Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips) as a truly put-upon security guard, and Jennifer Jason Leigh as Connie’s bratty middle-aged girlfriend. Leigh may be little more than a cameo, but she manages to give the audience so much in the little time she has as another one of Connie’s left behinds.
Connie’s own personal brand of affectionate destruction is wrapped up in the superb direction from the Brothers Safdie. Managing to keep Connie’s wild ride weighted to reality, there are still chewy moments of surrealism thrown into the mix. When Connie drags a recently probated con (Buddy Duress) on a quest to find a bottle of LSD at a theme park, thoughts may drift to Walter Hill’s neon drenched The Warriors. Good Time is also backed by a solid soundtrack by experimental musician Oneohtrix Point Never, oozing out of every pore in the film and adding an unforeseen stalking threat to the already threatening proceedings. Keep your ear out for Iggy Pop in the end credits too!
To be fair, your mileage will vary on how comfortable you are sitting on the shoulder of Connie. He is, with all seriousness, not a human being you’d probably want to be stuck in a lift with. However, leave any hesitance to one side and you’ll find Good Time to be an absorbing and powerful crime caper.
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