The Safdie brothers, Benny and Josh, have made a movie about another set of brothers, Connie and Nick Nikas. In addition to co-directing, Benny Safdie also plays the part of Nick, the mentally impaired sibling of Connie, a criminal sociopath played with cunning aplomb by Robert Pattinson. In his post-Twilight Saga career, Pattinson has smartly chosen roles that counteract his heartthrob image and has worked on challenging dramas with daring directors (i.e., Cosmopolis and Maps to the Stars with David Cronenberg, The Lost City of Z with James Gray, and the upcoming High Life with Claire Denis). The Safdies, however, are totally in their wheelhouse of scuzzy love stories with the ironically titled Good Time. Previous films include Daddy Longlegs, a story about two brothers growing up under the supervision (or lack thereof) of a loving but dangerously irresponsible father, and Heaven Knows What, an examination of the bonds between two suicidal junkies. Josh Safdie co-wrote the screenplay for Good Time with Ronald Bronstein, director of Frownland, which has the distinction of being one of the bleakest movies ever made.
Good Time is the account of a crime caper that goes from terribly wrong to ridiculously worse. In the opening scenes, Connie breaks his brother Nick free of a forced mental evaluation/therapy session, whereupon the two don masks and rob a bank. The holdup couldn’t go worse if they were Woody Allen in Take the Money and Run (“I have a gub”). Their escape goes off the rails, and leaves Nick captured and sent to jail. The rest of the movie unfolds in a bizarre chain of events engineered by Connie to free his brother. Connie’s overwhelming need to have his sibling by his side is a strange attribute for a character who evidences no other signs of human empathy or compassion (although he does seem to have a special connection with dogs). Jennifer Jason Leigh shows up all too briefly as Connie’s girlfriend, whom he exploits for the sake of her mother’s credit card. Later, he takes advantage of a Jamaican woman’s hospitality and the bored inclinations of an adolescent girl (Taliah Webster). A mistaken identity and a soda bottle filled with LSD also goose the plot along. But, for the most part, this is a one-man show: Despite his shabby looks and feral actions, Pattinson holds our attention as Connie, if only in wonderment at what act of idiocy he might commit next.
Filmed by Sean Price Williams with an intense abundance of close-ups, Good Time emphasizes personal distress over the details of the crimes. Even if it’s not always clear exactly what is occurring in a scene, we always know how the characters are responding. An insistent synth score by Oneohtrix Point Never (aka Daniel Lopatin) also heightens the movie’s emotional tone. (Iggy Pop also croons a song over the film’s closing credits.) The film’s visual scheme and the soundtrack often fill in for what these clueless characters cannot convey. Good Time demonstrates an admirable daring in its technique and willingness to go against the grain, but its payoff isn’t equal to its challenges.