by Freda Cooper
One of Hollywood’s best kept secrets for the best part of ten years, Josh and Benny Safdie started out making shorts and then moved into documentaries and features – all intense pieces set in their home city of New York and made on next-to-nothing budgets with first time actors. But in Good Time only New York remains. Now they have a budget worth talking about and a star to go with it – Robert Pattinson. This story of a failed bank heist and a con’s attempts to rescue his brother from prison has all the hallmarks of a game-changer.
Good Time; Dirs.: Benny Safdie, Josh Safdie; USA 2017, 101 mins; Our Rating: ★★★/5
Directed by two brothers, Good Time is also about two brothers – with one of them played by one of its directors. It’s the face of Nik (Benny Safdie) that we see first, as he’s interviewed by a support worker – until brother Connie (Robert Pattinson) bursts in and brings the session to an abrupt halt. He has a job to do and needs Nik’s help.
That job is a bank robbery and it marks the start of mini odyssey through night time New York with Pattinson as the guide. The heist, inevitably, goes wrong and the vulnerable Nik is sent to the notorious Rikers prison, leaving Connie on the outside, trying to raise the money for his bail. Why he thought involving his brother was a good idea is never really apparent but, given that Nik has learning and hearing difficulties, it wasn’t one of Connie’s best. He believes it’s the right thing to do – as he always does. But his ideas are never good and inevitably fall apart. He persuades girlfriend Corey (Jennifer Jason Leigh) – obviously the source of most of his money – to use her credit card to pay for Nik’s bail. He lies to her about the cost, and the card is declined. And that’s because it’s not hers, but her mother’s – and she’s cancelled it because she doesn’t trust Connie. You can see why.
There’s a whiff of Sydney Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon in his attempt to save his brother. But getting the badly beaten – and, therefore, heavily bandaged and sedated – Nik out of hospital runs as smoothly as the bank heist. And, surprisingly, it’s extremely funny, because the guy on the back seat of Connie’s car turns out to be a drunken motor mouth of an ex-con, Ray (Buddy Duress) who regales him at length with the story of how he ended up in hospital. Yet, amongst all that verbiage, is a potential way of paying that bail bill. All that Connie has to do is retrieve it from an amusement park – in the dead of night.
And so it continues. The pace is relentless, only sagging somewhere in the middle when it drifts off at a tangent, mainly because of Ray’s tale. The combination of the sheer length of his shaggy dog story and the slightly weaker writing very nearly takes the whole thing up a blind alley. That aside, the Safdie brothers have created a New York overflowing with fascinating characters – which makes the abrupt ending even more surprising and frustrating. It’s as if they ran out of steam.
The performances, however, are universally convincing. Pattinson is compelling, constantly on the edge and his eyes always darting around to find the next opportunity. Credit goes as well to Benny Safdie as Nik in a challenging role that he executes superbly. He has the added pressure of not just setting the tone in the opening scene but ending the film as well. Everything Connie does is for him. Isn’t it?
Freda Cooper is a film critic and broadcaster. She tweets @FredaTalkingPix.