Reviewed by GREG KING
Directors: Benny and Joshua Safdie
Stars: Robert Pattinson, Benny Safdie, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Buddy Duress, Taliah Webster, Barkhad Abdi.
The low budget indie crime drama Good Time is the latest film from the Safdie brothers (Benny and Joshua), whose films like Daddy Longlegs, etc, often explore the struggles of losers who live on the edges of society. This is a gritty and downbeat black comedy and heist drama with plenty of energy. Connie Nikas (played here by Twilight’s Robert Pattinson, cast against type) is a small-time crook who robs a bank with his mentally handicapped brother Nick (played by director Benny Safdie). But Nick is caught and sent to prison on Rikers Island. While Connie desperately tries to raise the $10k money for his bail, Nick is badly assaulted and ends up in hospital under police guard. Connie sneaks into the hospital to rescue him, but in a case of mistaken identity he takes Ray (Buddy Duress), another heavily bandaged prisoner instead.
Connie spends the rest of the night on the run as he tries to reconnect with his brother. Connie has to travel with the motor mouthed Ray and Crystal (Taliah Webster), a 16-year old black girl whose grandmother tries to help Connie. A series of bad decisions lead him from one awkward situation to another.
The title itself is quite ironic as this is a rather downbeat mix of drama and black comedy that follows Connie on his violent, twisting nocturnal journey through a pitiless New York cityscape. A pervasively downbeat mood permeates the material. Some of this may remind audiences of Martin Scorsese’s After Hours. The script has been written by Josh Safdie and their regular editor and collaborator Ronald Bronstein, and it unfurls with plenty of energy. Their direction is quite stylish and heavily influenced by the noir tropes and they maintain a relentless pace throughout. The Safdies play around with the genre tropes, pushing the material in unexpected directions.
The Safdie brothers bring a grim realism to the material which is reminiscent of the gritty Hollywood crime dramas of the early 70s and that new wave of films from young filmmakers like Scorsese, Coppola, et al. The film was shot guerrilla-style over a number of locations. The neon lit cinematography from Sean Price Williams and his use of hand held cameras effectively gives the film an energetic feel. The frenetic action is accompanied by a throbbing synthetic score from Oneohtrix Point Never.
Connie is a loose cannon who lurches from one bad situation to another and his sense of desperation grows. This is a strong performance from Pattinson, who is cast against type and almost unrecognisable here with his beard, his tough swagger and his bleached blonde hair. Like his Twilight co-star Kristen Stewart, Pattinson seems to be making some interesting choices, and extending his range as an actor. Playing against type as a thoroughly unlikable type here he delivers one of his best performances, gutsy and uncharacteristically gritty and edgy. Safdie himself brings a naivete and vulnerability to his performance as the damaged and psychologically scarred Nick. Pattinson and the hulking Safdie create a strong physical contrast that defines their roles as siblings, and brings a nice Of Mice And Men dynamic to their characters.
The strong cast also includes a cameo from Jennifer Jason Leigh as Connie’s girlfriend Corey, and Captain Phillips star Barkhad Abdi as Dash, a hapless security guard whom Connie encounters at a run-down theme park.
Good Time has performed well on the festival circuit, but whether it will do as well on commercial release remains to be seen.