Indie filmmaker duo the Safdie brothers have really stepped up to the next level with electric thriller Good Time. Robert Pattinson stars as Connie Nikas, a criminal on a desperate path to break his mentally ill brother Nick (Benny Safdie) out of the infamous Rikers Island after a heist gone wrong.
Benny Safdie is mesmerising, and Pattinson is by turns tender and ruthless in his desperation. The film masterfully sets up each of the characters’ positions and motivations with hardly any exposition at all, throwing the audience into the world of the Nikas brothers with a refreshing lack of patronisation.
Connie is immediately established as a morally grey protagonist, but remains a sympathetic figure throughout the film, even as his actions become more and more condemning. The introspective, emotional opening to the film quickly ramps up into a high octane pace that hardly ever gives audiences a second to relax.
We’re kept on the edge of our seats through the heist and Nicholas’ subsequent arrest, and throughout Connie’s increasingly desperate attempts to raise the money needed to bail him out. First he turns to his oblivious, needy girlfriend Corey, brilliantly played by Jennifer Jason Leigh, and then resorts to more drastic measures.
His plan unexpectedly unites him with a fellow criminal Ray (Buddy Duress), and streetwise teenager Crystal (Taliah Webster), who get caught up in Connie’s mission. Ray presents a foil to Connie — someone whose ends are far less noble than Connie’s, despite their means being so similar. Crystal is a sort of victim of Connie’s mania, though not in the way one might imagine.
The series of events that occur in 24 hours might, in the hands of different filmmakers, come across as wacky and almost comedic, yet the sheer intensity of the fluorescent lighting and the screeching soundtrack keep the audience fully immersed in the seriousness.
Scenes that could be silly — hunting around a theme park haunted house for stashed drugs in the dark, sneaking an unconscious patient past police guards out of a hospital — are in fact some of the most edge-of-your-seat, heart-racing moments of drama screened at this festival. The atmosphere is built by the incredible electric soundtrack, that really ramps up the tension.
Benny Safdie does an incredible job portraying the tortured, loyal Nick. The opening scenes between him and his brother are the emotional core around which the entire film revolves, and his performance leaves nothing to be desired.
Pattinson is captivating as the sly con-man who can talk his way through most situations, or beat his way through if he can’t. The character’s mutability is key — he plays up to the sympathies of whoever he is trying to convince to help him — yet the audience never loses sight of who he is, and further, are taken in by his plight.
This film will keep you on the edge of your seat from start to finish, and rather than providing a neatly constructed narrative, the Safdie brothers will take you on a journey full of twists and turns that feel much more like real life than a movie. A must-see!
by Sneh Rupra
(Featured images from ‘Good Time’ courtesy of A24)