Some movies manage to prevail simply with forward momentum and a progression that ultimately engages the viewer by making them wonder, “Exactly how the hell are these people going to get out of this?” You may not necessarily like the characters and potentially could experience exhaustion, but it’s in service of simply wanting to see how it all comes together or how it ultimately falls apart.
GOOD TIME is more than that though the curiosity of mounting predicament is certainly one of many reasons to experience this wild ride. The film begins in tight close-up of the mentally disabled Nick having to endure a series of questions presented to him by his social worker. The audience is asked to be a part of the slow process to the point of discomfort. Then the session is interrupted by Nick’s brother, who clearly wants more for his brother than long-term inpatient treatment. Anyone can relate to the desire for more out of life, and that’s how the filmmakers create compassion for this difficult duo. Unfortunately, Nick’s brother isn’t too bright in hatching up a way to hit the road and buy a home for a fresh start. It leads to a downfall in which Nick becomes incarcerated. From that point forward, the film is all about an immediacy of the “moment” where we instantly side with the imperfectly fallible. There is little backstory or exposition and the Safdie brothers know how to craft a compelling narrative with realistic characters dealing with difficult circumstances of their own making and the awareness of needing an exit no matter what.
Connie Nikas (Robert Pattinson) has one tumultuous night through Queens as he attempts to correct his mistakes and bust his brother Nick (co-director Ben Safdie) out of jail following a bungled bank robbery. He first attempts to cover the bail money by turning to his partner (Jennifer Jason Leigh) who also lacks some semblance of emotional maturity. But another wrinkle occurs when it is revealed that Nick is under police supervision in the hospital. Connie plows forward with his impulsive plan, but it becomes more and more obvious that he is not going to pull off his plan, with law enforcement closing in and random unpredictability finding a way to mess with him. By the time an amusement park setting comes into play, and a particularly cringe-inducing choice to make someone look like the criminal, you realize that there is also some deeper insights into societal expectations at play as well. The Safdie brothers are smart enough to know when to inject mirth, some harsh reality, all while brilliantly constructed moments of suspense grab you by the throat.
It all adds up to a night that wouldn’t seem out of place in Scorsese’s AFTER HOURS combined with the relentless energy of Joe Carnahan’s NARC. A lot of the film is shot in tightly framed close-up to make you feel you are side by side in these environments. It doesn’t necessarily feel claustrophobic but anxiety-inducing and uncomfortable nonetheless. It’s a low budget film shot quickly, often basked in grainy handheld shakiness that manages to compel rather than induce a sense of nausea. The same can be said of their last accomplishment HEAVEN KNOWS WHAT, which took a cliche story of drug abuse and co-dependence taking the viewer into a world that felt authentic and expeditious. This feels like a step forward mainly due to the performances and the sheer fact that it’s impossible not to get caught up in the plights and offbeat delights throughout. There is some dark humor but mainly, a lot of darkness on display as we inhibit the nervous journey of Connie’s desperate act(s).
Robert Pattinson is a remarkable revelation here, never overplaying that desperation like he’s a living jittery Monster energy drink. He’s found the perfect balance of menace and brotherly tenderness to bring Connie to life. There was a sense of worry during one moment later in the film when a character asks Connie about his potentially troubled past. This script is smart enough not to drown us in history for Connie is all about the present and getting through the night. Which puts us in that same fractured but energetic mindset of making sure all goes according to plan and we kind of want to see this admittedly “bad” guy succeed. Sadly, the momentum cannot be sustained and I think I left the theater wanting a little bit more than what the final act provides us with. That minor setback aside, this is definitely a film that deserves to be seen with an audience late at night, to gauge the collective anxiety of their reaction. Also any cinephile is likely to bask in awe of how these two brothers crafted an experience that feels real, surreal and consistently intriguing as each scenario becomes more intense than the last. If you need only one reason to give this your time, it should be for Pattinson’s ability to take us on a ride and infusing his desperation with depth rather than melodrama. GOOD TIME is more of an insanely wild time that will leave you winded. It also cements the Safdie brothers as one of the more exciting pairs of directors working today. B+