To say that indie filmmaking brothers Benny and Josh Safdie are an acquired taste would be an understatement akin to saying that not everyone fully gets Harmony Korine’s films. At least Korine tried to make something fairly accessible with Spring Breakers, and maybe that’s what the Safdies were trying to do with Good Time, but boy, did they fail miserably.
On the surface, a story about two New York brothers whose criminal activities get them into trouble would seem straight-forward enough, although the Safdies give this simple story a twist.
The film opens with Robert Pattinson’s Constantin “Connie” Nikas rescuing his younger brother Nicky (co-director Benny Safdie) from a creepy therapist. Nicky is mentally-challenged and possibly autistic as well, but his older brother still drags him along on a bank robbery that almost instantly goes wrong when a dye pack explodes as they make their getaway. Confused and unable to escape, Nicky is arrested and sent to jail, leaving his brother trying to scrape together $10,000 to get him released on bail without getting caught himself. This should be a fairly straight-forward bit of storytelling about how a guy’s love for his brother gets them both into bigger trouble, but it gets muddled up with a character whose every decision seems be poorly considered — and Connie is supposed to be the smart brother, too.
From the second that opening robbery goes wrong, it’s evident what a royal f*ck-up Pattinson’s character is. Granted, maybe he hasn’t seen Raising Arizona (or any other heist movie), but those dye packs are such a common way to catch bank robbers, you’d think everyone would know about them by now. Even worse is that he’d drag his troubled brother into this mess, but Connie just keeps doubling down with every moronic thing that he does. This includes everything from sneaking Nicky out of the hospital ward where he’s been detained after getting beaten up in a prison fight, to hitting on Crystal (Taliah Webster), a teenage girl with whom Connie holes up while hiding from the police.
The rest of the film involves Pattinson running around with an even bigger loser named Ray (Buddy Duress, another Safdie brothers regular), and there’s something amusing about how much worse a human being Ray is compared to Connie. As badly beaten up as Ray is when we first meet him, he manages to find himself in worse and worse shape as the two of them try to find some illicit narcotics to sell. Like Nicky and many others, Ray learns the hard way that having anything to do with Connie is a bad idea.
Continuing their relationship with co-writer/editor Ronald Bronstein, who also acted in their 2009 film Daddy Longlegs, the Safdies seem to have some big ideas about creating this complex crime film that harks back to the classics. Something like this probably shouldn’t affect the enjoyment of the movie, but knowing that the Safdies programmed a series of films that inspired Good Time that included some of those very classics, such as After Hours, 48 Hours, Jackie Brown and Michael Mann’s Thief and Heat, just makes their film more of a letdown.
If things weren’t already bad enough, the Safdies cast Jennifer Jason Leigh as Connie’s overly-emotional girlfriend, who overacts her way through a few scenes, only to never return. Other actors who are better than this material include Oscar nominee Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips) as an amusement park security guard who also gets dragged down by Connie’s schemes. And in a nod to Ramin Bahrani’s Goodbye Solo, don’t miss a cameo from that film’s breakout star, who appears as an Uber driver in Good Time.
As for Pattinson, the film puts a lot of pressure on him to deliver as its unlikeable lead, and while his New York accent is something to admire because it makes you forget he was once Edward in Twilight, his performance isn’t very impressive beyond that.
Good Time isn’t just tough to watch at times due to its violence, it’s almost obnoxious how violence is used to keep the audience invested. The Safdies normally crappy production values are compounded by the decision to shoot all these ugly characters in extreme close-up, so much of the time you’re not even sure what you’re watching. Every once in a while, some style shines through, but those touches are all too rare.
Normally, I’d be thrilled by an ’80s-inspired synth score like the one Oneohtrix Point Never provides, but his music is used non-stop in the opening bank robbery and subsequent chase, and it gets to the point where it sounds like the Safdies handed an orangutan its first modular synthesizer, and it just went to town.
You don’t need to watch the Safdies’ latest film to know that there are lots of awful people out there, and I’m not sure why anyone would want to watch the worst of the worst. Sure, sometimes those people can be funny, but there’s nothing particularly entertaining about Good Time, and the ending leaves you wondering what the point was of any of it.
In the end, even the movie’s title is a misnomer, because a Good Time is the last thing you’ll have while watching this movie.
Running time: 100 minutes
Edward Douglas | East Coast Editor