Think of the Safdie brothers’ pulsating new drama, Good Time, as Of Mice and Men meets Mean Streets. Robert Pattinson plays Connie, a smooth-talking, fast-moving hustler, who brings a shark-like intensity to the streets—he feels that if he stops moving, he’ll die. Joining him on a somewhat ill-conceived bank robbery is his mentally impaired kid brother, Nick (co-director Ben Safdie). Tellingly, they wear “black-face” masks which Nick keeps tugging at, as they pass a note to the somewhat unimpressed teller, who nonetheless hands them a bag with the cash. In the getaway car, they open the bag and, of course, red paint explodes in their faces, causing Nick to writhe and panic. It’s only a matter of time before the police catch up with them and, while Connie is able to get away, Nick is arrested and brought to Riker’s Island. From there, Connie becomes obsessed with saving his brother. At first, he just wants to get the bail money to get Nick out of jail. But once he discovers that Nick has been hospitalized in the aftermath of prison brawl, his plan is to spring his brother from the hospital.
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Good Time is shot with grainy film, often in extreme close-up, with a loud, synth-heavy score. The brothers want the film to feel like sensory overload, matching Connie’s single-minded, frantic immersion in his own pursuits.
This is bravura filmmaking, to be sure. There’s a twist mid-way that I never saw coming and made me laugh with delight. And there’s a virtuosic scene in at the Queens amusement park Adventureland, as Connie looks for hidden drug money in a kitschy haunted house.
But in some ways, I liked Good Time best when it slowed down: The first scene, which carefully watches a session between the suspicious, cagey Nick and a kindly psychiatrist (Peter Verby) is mesmerizing. And the film has a wonderful segment where Connie cons his way into an elderly black couple’s home and flirts with their bored 16-year-old granddaughter, who is thrilled about this exciting new grown-up in her life. As I alluded to, the film has a subtle take on the privilege of whiteness, even on the streets: Connie is able to impersonate a security guard and sweet talk a cop in the hospital—could he get away with those things if he were black?
It should be noted that Pattinson, who has been trying, with mixed results, to transcend his vampire dreamboat past, is compelling in this role, fully committed to this scuzzy, twitchy, undeniably charismatic hustler. That being said, every once in a while the performance all but screams, “look ma, I’m method!” That show-offy quality also permeates the film. With Good Time, the Safdie brothers have flaunted their gritty bona fides. Maybe next time, they won’t have to try quite so hard.