Director: Ben Safdie, Josh Safdie
Screenplay: Josh Safdie, Ronald Bronstein
Starring: Robert Pattinson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Ben Safdie, Barkhad Abdi, Buddy Duress
Runtime: 99 Minutes
The Safdie brothers intimate understanding of ground-level Manhattan and the downtrodden individuals caught between the cracks of the Big Apple has been a consistent element of their filmography as a writer/director duo. Their intimate forms of practice and shooting have allowed them a unique perspective of a city otherwise glamorised and always looking up at the skylines, or down between them, focusing on criminals, drug addicts and other undesirables who are just about getting by in and around the city that never sleeps.
Taking this nickname to its literal meaning, Good Time’s ironic title charts a 24 hour mad dash caper gone wrong as Constantine “Connie” Nikas (Robert Pattinson) and his mentally challenged younger brother, Nick (Ben Safdie), find themselves on the run after failing to successfully rob a bank in New York. What follows is an unexpected series of cascading events of intense and nail-biting suspense that makes it one of the wildest rides of 2017.
The film looks and feels like something dug up from the 1970s, not just down to its retro title card but its manner of shooting and composition gives it an out-of-time quality in a 21st-century setting. Everything from the camera zooms and static camera placement to its tactile turns of handheld photography indulge in a distinct and recognisable aesthetic that’s vibrant and characterful, whilst feeling completely at one with the tone and Oneohtrix Point Never’s spectacularly scratchy score and sound design.
There’s a panicked frenzy and sustained sense of threat that feels bolted to its foundations, echoing not only the likes of Dog Day Afternoon but the dark and emergent efforts of Jerry Schatzberg’s seminal drama, The Panic in Needle Park. It plots out every pace ahead of itself as the night goes on in a natural way through visuals and verbal communication. Every step feels like it could go wrong for Connie in his efforts to reunite with his brother, but for all his incompetence and insidious decision making, he is keeping himself together for the sake of Nick.
It settles into a groove of observation and quiet discussion at points, like with Buddy Duress as Ray; a criminal who enters the story in a shocking development and sticks around for the remainder with Connie on their own quest. His standout scene in particular where he describes the last few hours of his life having just been released from prison is one of the most captivating stretches of cinema to be seen this year. Popping in and out of the narrative are also incredible turns from a Jennifer Jason Leigh that’s enough to turn the stomach with stress, and Captain Phillips’ Barkhad Abdi as a security guard who stumbles across them on their journey to humorous and equally disturbing effect.
At the centre of this is a really great showcase for Pattinson’s continuously expansive range. He’s fantastically persistent and dishevelled here, only upstaged by the occasional appearance of Ben Safdie as Nick. There’s an incredible tenderness and vulnerability to Nick and his position, one shared with Connie on his journey as his endgame is getting Nick to a point of safety once again. Their love is at the core of the whole thing, driving Nick to extremes even against his own instincts of self-preservation, that doesn’t quite hit until the final moments where it all becomes rather heartbreakingly clear what this has all been about.
Even if it does just boil down to the events of one seriously bad night, Good Time is an audiovisual beating that lingers after the giddying high of its initial rush subsides – while its extended closing sequence over the credits to the bittersweet vocals of Iggy Pop is as plausibly realistic and shattering a coda as it was ever going to be.