Good Time (2017)
Written & Directed by Benny & Josh Safdie
Connie Nikas is convinced that his brother, Nickie is just fine. This is despite the fact that Nickie is deaf in both ears and lacks some essential cognitive functions. Connie pulls Nickie from the program their grandmother enrolled him in. The young man has plans to rob a bank so he and his brother can run away from the city and be free of what he perceives as authority crushing them. However, many details are overlooked in this plan, and Nickie ends up caught and sent to Rikers Island. Connie spends the next day desperately manipulating, lying, and stealing to save Nickie.
Good Time is a film made by people who love cinema but refuse to be derivative. The entire movie is shot mostly in tight close-up shots of Robert Pattinson, who plays Connie, and the other characters he encounters. The music is tense and overwhelming, done in droning synth style. The imagery is a retina-burning harsh neon buzz, cutting through the bleak and seemingly unending night. Connie is always on the verge of going over the edge, pacing and greasy. The directors describe him as “a romantic psychopath” which is spot on. He shows no empathy for others, just pushing forward with his own agenda.
The film accurately captures the quicksand mire that living on the edge of poverty can bring. Characters are pushed to make illegal choices because their options are limited. They display very little sense of long-term critical thinking because they are like animals being rattled in a cage, always kept off balance so they cannot think beyond the present. The movie never lets Connie off with this excuse though. He is still an adult who is ultimately responsible for his actions, and he savages some people over the course of the story. It’s hard to forget how Connie leaves a security guard beaten to a pulp and overdosing on LSD. He manipulates his older girlfriend who seems to exhibit some emotional problems. He weasels his way into an elderly woman’s home and drives off with her granddaughter. Every action leads to a plethora of complications and betrayals. While is the protagonist of the film he is in no way the hero. His story is beyond merely a tragic drama and into the realm of horror.
Robert Pattinson has wholly blown the roof of the early perceptions of himself. Twilight is in the rearview mirror, and he is building a strong resume of performances. Good Time will undoubtedly be the film that pushes him to another level of acting. The Safdie Brothers, who previously directed Heaven Knows What (which I still need to watch), explained in an interview that Pattinson sought them out and said whatever they were doing next he wanted to have a part in. As the script for Good Time came together, Pattinson played an integral role in building the backstory of Connie Nikas. While the majority of this backstory is never on screen or spoken by any characters, it is present in the choices Pattinson makes as Connie, in his reactions and rage.
Good Time is a rough and brutal film, but a necessary one. There’s no romanticising of the plight of these people on the bottom rungs of the economic ladder. Rather than finding help or solace in others, Connie is so desperate to escape with his brother he destroys every possible connection he could make with another. It is evident that he will not be finding a happy ending at the conclusion of this picture. However, the final images offer hope to Nickie, his mentally handicapped brother. There is pain in his sibling’s face, but we slowly see him make the first steps to be part of a more loving and constructive community. The ache of how much is lost lingers though.