‘It’s in theaters now! Coming this summer.. Two brothers. In a getaway car. And then a dye pack explodes. And they ran as fast as they could. Into a Domino’s. And then the police came… And whaddya do then? It’s two brothers and I- and… and they’re gonna…’
Robert Pattinson is unrecognizable as Constantine “Connie” Nikas, a low-life New Yorker who enlists the help of his brother, Nick (Ben Safdie), to commit a bank robbery. The robbery goes wrong and Nick is placed in a Rikers Island holding cell. To make matters worse, Nick is mentally handicapped; his life is in active danger from the other inmates. Good Time chronicles the fever dream of the rescue Connie attempts.
Connie is a rebel. Or, a sociopath. He’s something else entirely. He’s fast-thinking, smooth-speaking, and it seems like he can talk or weasel his way out of anything. He recruits several inadvertent accomplices, all of which he is not entirely forthcoming with. Part of his ease with people comes from the way he speaks, talking to people the same way one would talk as if they knew someone forever.
There’s probably very few things that can be said for certain that Connie cherishes, but he loves his brother (and dogs, who, for some reason, always seem to do his bidding). The film opens with Nick completing a series of psychological tests at a therapist’s. Connie bursts into the room, grabbing his brother and chiding the therapist for making Nick cry. Although Connie means well, he is inadvertently hurting his brother by refusing to let his brother undergo therapy. It seems he refuses to believe his brother is mentally ill. Connie enlists Nick within the bank robbery to instill his brother with a sense of purpose, praising him during the robbery for his strength. The robbery scene isn’t placed directly after the scene at the psychiatrist by accident. It acts as a foil, illustrating the unexpected capacity and courage that someone mentally ill can have, albeit applied in a rather unfortunate scenario.
In a heist film one might expect that the opening sequence, typically the robbery itself, would be the most harrowing sequence of the film. Yet as Good Time progresses, scenes become more and more grave and unsettling to watch. Sean Price Williams excels as cinematographer, using a combination of extreme close-ups on actors’ faces and constantly-moving camerawork. He strikes a balance between coordination and disorientation, never becoming too frantic despite rapid cutting from frame to frame. Matthew Libatique, Darren Aronofsky’s go-to cinematographer, would be proud. Flooding of neon light and booming synth music combine with cinematography to fully flesh out Good Time’s scenes, striking that same balance of order and chaos that the cinematography achieves.
Contrary to the film’s title, Good Time is not a ‘fun’ film to watch. With a bottle of LSD, druggies, and forgotten memories, you might expect the film to careen into humor but there is not a laugh to be had in Good Time. Both Pattinson and Safdie excel in their roles, illustrating two very different kinds of imperfect characters. And somehow, at the film’s close, it is truly debatable which of the two is worse-off in life. Although Connie is earnestly charming, his actions are despicable. It is in his favor that the film refuses to shine any light into his upbringing. Pattinson and Safdie have been praised for their authenticity in acting in the film which is commendable given that fellow actor Buddy Duress, a previous Rikers Island inmate, appears across Pattinson in a major role.
In their sophomore film Heaven Knows What, the Safdie Brothers explored the New York underground through the eyes of a heroin addict. Despite the authenticity of acting- the leads of the film were heroin addicts that the Safdie’s recruited off the street- and a cinéma-vérité style of filmmaking that captured the grit of the American underground, the film felt muted and indistinct in comparison to films of the same genre. Good Time expounds upon what the Safdie’s created in Heaven Knows What to great effect, establishing an unlikely humanist quality that lingers after the film’s viewing. In one’s life every action, every word, and every movement is of dire consequence. Yet there are some things that always seem to be of control. The song that plays as the credits roll- an original collaboration between Oneohtrix Point Never and Iggy Pop– shares this sentiment, the song lamenting just what could’ve been for the two brothers.