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Downward spiral

‘Good Time’ is messy, queasy, and a will-be classic

Robert Pattinson in “Good Time”

A generation from now, cinephiles will likely look upon “Good Time” with the same revere as they do Martin Scorsese’s breakout 1973 crime thriller “Mean Streets.”

Many already are, actually, as this new collaboration between actor Robert Pattison and young New York directing brothers Benny & Josh Safdie evokes comparisons to Scorsese’s first classic with Robert De Niro.

Scorsese would go on to make even better films, including several unqualified masterpieces. “Good Time” heralds the same potential. It’s imperfect, and rough around the edges, but there’s greatness
in it.

Pattinson plays junkie criminal Connie Nikas, and co-director Benny Safdie is his mentally handicapped brother Nick. Hoping to start a fresh life for them both but poor on money, Connie decides to rob a bank. Worse yet, he manipulates Nick into helping him do it. They pull it off, but things quickly go south as they start to flee.

What follows is a chaotic night-long journey. Never thinking clearly, Connie makes one foolish decision after another. He’s resourceful, able to act very quickly on his feet, but it’s all reactionary, never strategic. Everything is done out of fear and desperation.

The movie isn’t told from Connie’s POV but the tone is, and Pattinson is as raw as if he came straight from the streets. The Safdie Brothers create a fever dream experience, complete with an 80s-infused aesthetic. As Connie’s decisions begin to put innocent people in danger, it’s unsettling and hard to watch.

Even so, Pattinson and the Safdies reveal a humanity at the core of this troubled person. His actions are never justified, and he’s not acting by accepted rules within the confines of a criminal underworld. In that sense, Connie can’t even be classified as an anti-hero. But we understand why he does what he does: it’s for his brother.

The whole ordeal is intense, queasy, and emotionally conflicting—a nauseous downward spiral that eventually has you hoping the cops capture him, for everyone’s benefit including his own.

While the narrative is messy by design, there’s a midpoint tangent that does nothing to move the story forward. It’s a prolonged detour that tells the backstory of a new character who enters the mix, sort of a separate short film within this feature. It’s stylistically consistent, but it’s also padding.

That one loose indulgence aside, everything about “Good Time” is compelling, and heartbreaking.

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