Following a botched robbery that sees his brother arrested, a wily and reckless career criminal spends his night figuring out how to free him, making stranger and stranger bedfellows along the way. Although the separation of the two brothers undeniably robs later scenes of their potential emotional impact, the road leading to the final minutes is a tense and frenetic experience that more than makes up for it, delivering an intelligent and immersive crime caper.
Partially deaf and intellectually disabled, Nick Nikas (Benny Safdie) opens the film sitting uncomfortably in front of his social worker, being slowly led through a series of response tests. As things turn personal with mention of his grandmother and Nick starts to get upset, he is spared any further introspection by his brother, Connie (an almost unrecognisable Robert Pattinson), who bursts in and drags him out, adamant that he doesn’t belong in a psych unit. Instantly the action switches to Queens, where the two brothers, disguised by hoodies, sunglasses and masks that make them look like black men, stick up a bank. Although the heist goes to plan – thanks in most part to Connie’s genius low-key robbery techniques – things quickly unravel during the escape, and a panicked Nick is apprehended by the police.
Eager to get his brother out of jail, Connie turns to his easily-led girlfriend, Corey (Jennifer Jason Leigh), and does his usual routine of manipulating money out of her to pay Nick’s bail. Things go sideways when Corey reveals that her mother, clearly onto the scheme, has frozen her credit cards. Forced to improvise, Connie spends a chaotic night bumbling around New York trying to rectify his mistakes. His quest leads him on a collision course with a series of odd and morally questionable characters, including naive yet equable teen, Crystal (Taliah Webster), and fast-talking, recently paroled wise guy, Ray (Buddy Duress), both of whom fall prey to Connie’s master manipulations.
The bond shared by the two brothers is a core strength of the film, and it is therefore all the more unfortunate when Nick is swapped out for Ray.
Though a sprawling story, GOOD TIME is careful not to waste time focusing on many characters outside of it’s core cast. Robert Pattinson takes a dramatic turn from his previous works, transforming himself into a flawed, yet optimistically relatable career criminal, who’s obvious love and care for his brother helps to rationalise the less than noble actions he takes to reunite with him. As Nick, Benny Safdie takes a sweet, gentle giant and imbues him with some serious emotional weight from the get-go, managing to navigate his character’s complicated relationships with social workers, without ever drifting into an overblown, offensive stereotype.
The George and Lennie type bond shared by the two brothers is a core strength of the film, one that helps to establish cause and consequence for Connie’s misdeeds, and it is therefore all the more unfortunate when Nick is swapped out for Ray. While the emotional black-hole left by this absence does affect the film overall, it’s obvious that Duress’ motor-mouthed crook is much better suited to the buddy comedy mischief that follows his hilarious introduction. Though he’s never really given much depth beyond a typical gangster who’s found himself in a bizarre situation, there’s enough to be found in Duress’ performance that he doesn’t ever feel too one-dimensional.
Interwoven between the bro-triangle of the three main characters are a slew of supporting roles – usually people that Connie is trying to cheat in order to rescue Nick – whose presence brings not only a level of comedy through their oddball incarnations, but also a mark of humanity against which Connie’s increasingly dubious actions can be judged. Particular stand outs are Corey and Crystal – Jennifer Jason Leigh channels her inner teenager and stamps her feet because her mother won’t let her be taken advantage of by her obviously exploitative boyfriend, and Taliah Webster offers yet more opportunity for exploration into how far Connie is willing to go to achieve his goals – her underage crush, and his willingness to use it to his advantage, offers equal parts humour and discomfort throughout.
Dramatic changes to what the audience might expect easily breathe new life into what can easily become a repetitive genre.
This cavalcade of quirky characters would only go so far, however, if they weren’t firmly grounded by the intelligent, yet frenzied plot. The script, penned by Josh Safdie and Ronald Bronstein, takes the relatively well trod concept of the crime caper, and ensures that every trope and cliche is not only avoided, but replaced with something unpredictable. These dramatic changes to what the audience might expect help to reinforce the already palpable tension that resonates throughout, and easily breathe new life into what can easily become a repetitive genre.
As with many of their films, Josh and Benny Safdie (who co-directed together as well as writing and starring respectively) have made their love of bright, vibrant lights known, with a great many scenes seeing Connie bathed in streetlights, TV glow and neon tubes. This distinct style lends a certain sense of skewed reality to the film, particularly in the final sequence. Between the location, the flashing lights and the wacky narrative, it’s not difficult to imagine that this whole surreal experience could just be a tall tale, being recounted by Connie to a fellow con in a jail cell.
While it’s undeniable that the deep, affecting relationship established between the two brothers creates too large an impression to not be missed for the rest of the film, GOOD TIME finds plenty of worthwhile material to fill the gaps with. The excellent script is completely confident in its characters, with strong, simple motivations that never seem out of place or in need of further explanation. The breathless narrative skillfully retreads old territory, veering clear of stale material and taking left turns where rights are expected. When lefts are expected, it doubles back entirely, leaving you stranded in an amusement park.
Verdict: 4/5 Paddles