Fiction Writing 101 says to put your characters through hell, and the Safdie Brothers do so with gusto. Their latest crime film, Good Time, rockets its sketchy protagonist from one disaster to the next, blending an aggressive realism with a rate of failure so rapid-fire it’s almost farcical.
After Connie (Robert Pattinson) and his mentally disabled brother, Nick (Ben Safdie), rob a bank, a dye pack explodes, sending Connie’s plan off the rails. He stashes the money in a Domino’s bathroom, but a passing patrol car causes Nick to panic and flee. A quick chase ends with Nick running through a mall door and knocking himself unconscious. The rest of the movie finds Connie haphazardly trying to get his brother out of jail by any insane means necessary.
Good Time abounds in throwback vibes, with a grittiness rarely seen in movies these days. It was shot on film and with minimal lighting setups, so from its grainy opening image, we’re given the sense this is going to be a visceral picture. The Cannes award-winning soundtrack by Oneohtrix Point Never works in full harmony with the visuals, its dark melodies and edgy drones heightening the sense of freneticism and uneasiness we feel as Connie breaks into a hospital or cons his way into a family’s house for the night.
And thematically, Connie’s odyssey through the grimy New York night feels like something from a bygone era. It’s like a ’70s Scorsese flick for whatever this decade is called. (Scorsese is even producing Ben and Joshua Safdie’s next feature.)
The lynchpin here is Pattinson, whose performance is captivating in the masterful way he rounds out Connie. The character is at once streetwise and an idiot, rolling with punch after punch despite the futility of it all. There’s no small amount of scumbaggery here, but Pattinson never lets us forget the unrelenting love the character feels for his brother.
To be clear, this isn’t Dog Day Afternoon. Connie does or allows enough extremely deplorable stuff to go down en route to saving his brother that we feel far more conflicted about our investment in his success. That nuance is a big part of what makes Good Time so interesting. The Safdies and Pattinson make us wrestle with the fact that Connie is a really bad person. We’re pulled into the mud.
Pattinson has always seemed like one of those guys whose talent was being wasted on a particularly braindead supernatural franchise, so it’s nice to see him—with wads of Twilight money setting him up for life—lending his acting chops to the service of better films. It would be great to see him follow the Daniel Radcliffe or Ryan Gosling route and go full bore into the weird stuff.
For now, Good Time serves as a marker of both Pattinson’s skill and that of the Safdies. It’s a tough film to watch—and yet it leaves us wanting more.
Directors: Ben and Joshua Safdie
Starring: Robert Pattinson, Benny Safdie, Taliah Webster
Theater: Now showing, area theaters