Good Time is as much about its setting, New York City, as it is its characters or plot. As someone who’s never been, I still have a relationship with it, albeit one forged through the images and aesthetics of the movies. In my mind, it’s a city that is constantly in motion. As a child, I took the slogan “The City That Never Sleeps” quite literally. Good Time brings that (perhaps fictional) place, and its frenetic characters, to crackling life. It’s evokes films from a bygone era of Big Apple movie making. Images from titles as disparate as Taxi Driver, After Hours, Tootsie, and even My Dinner with Andre swirled in my head as the gritty expanse of Good Time’s version of New York opened up before me.
This is a movie fueled by desperation. Our “hero,” Connie, is soaked with it. He’s a petty criminal whose scheming is constant. He’s the kind of guy who, to avoid holding down a regular job, expends double the effort in lying and conniving to get what he wants out of people. The film opens with Connie convincing his mentally disabled brother, Nick, to help him rob a bank of $65,000 to pay off a debt. Things go south after the robbery when a dye pack in the money bag explodes in the getaway car.
Covered in red paint, the brothers try to walk home nonchalantly, but are noticed by two cops in a patrol car. Nick panics and runs. He is eventually caught, but Connie gets away. Knowing that the violent and terrifying NYC jail system will destroy his intellectually challenged brother, Connie has a new mission: raise the bail money to get Nick out as soon as possible. He spends all night and early the next morning in a desperate attempt to do that.
I mentioned Martin Scorsese’s After Hours as a movie that Good Time parallels in its use of New York City as expansive canvas. The two pictures together would make an interesting double feature. Both take place over the course of a night on the streets of New York. The black comedy of After Hours works as a satiric counterpoint to Good Time’s more dramatic tone.
The main characters of each movie serve to highlight how different kinds of people react to crazy situations. In After Hours, Paul Hackett (played by Griffin Dunne) is a straight-laced computer word processor – the movie was made in 1985 – who embarks on an increasingly bizarre chain of events when he searches for a woman he met in a café. Paul has no frame of reference for the ever more oddball characters he runs into during the night. His life consists of sitting at a desk all day, and he’s probably in bed by nine every night.
Connie, however, lives in this world. He could conceivably be one of the people Paul runs into during his adventures in After Hours. Robert Pattinson is hypnotic as Connie. It’s fascinating to watch Pattinson seamlessly segue from one lie to the next as he tries to convince each mark to trust him, to hand over whatever Connie needs in that moment to get him closer to his goal. Like the most convincing con artists, Pattinson never shows a hint on his face that what he is saying is a lie, because in that moment, he believes the lie himself. On a basic level, Good Time is so captivating because you get caught up in watching the destruction Connie leaves in his wake.
The destruction is vast.
In order to get the extra $10,000 he needs to bail Nick out of jail, Connie first turns to his girlfriend Corey. The two have a strained relationship, exacerbated by the fact that Corey’s mother, whom Corey lives with, can’t stand and doesn’t trust Connie. Jennifer Jason Leigh is magnificent for the very limited time she appears on screen as Corey. She spends every second in a near panic-stricken state. She can’t bear the thought of losing Connie, which he, as a master con man, threatens frequently when it suits his purposes. Things reach a fever pitch with Corey when she tries to use her mother’s stolen credit card to get the bail money.
Things get crazier still when Connie learns that other inmates viciously assaulted Nick, and he’s been moved to a local hospital. Connie decides to break his brother out of the hospital. His attempt leads to a downward spiral of consequences, eventually resulting in a search for a bottle of LSD solution with another petty criminal he meets along the way. Somali-American actor Barkhad Abdi, who made his memorable screen debut in the thriller Captain Phillips, turns up in another memorable role as a hapless amusement park security guard who is unfortunate enough to cross paths with Connie.
The style of Good Time is as effective as both the gritty setting and Pattinson’s virtuoso performance. Directing team Josh and Ben Safdie, who are brothers, incorporate a 1970s crime film aesthetic. Composer Daniel Lopatin (known professionally as Oneohtrix Point Never) adds a sythpop score reminiscent of Tangerine Dream, Vangelis, and the best music cues from Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive. The score culminates in a track that accompanies the final moments of the film, revealing Nick’s fate. It’s a collaboration between Lopatin and Iggy Pop, who supplies haunting vocals. These two elements, the look and sound, create a unique cinematic experience.
There is one troubling creative decision I must address in Good Time. One of the directors, Ben, plays Nick, Connie’s disabled, and apparently partially deaf, brother. It’s not hard to imagine any number of advocates for the disabled community raising objections. Not only do the brothers use a severely mentally disabled person essentially as a MacGuffin, but they also use an able-bodied person, one of the directors, no less, to portray the character.
This misstep aside, Good Time is a visual and aural descent into a nightmarish world that is enthralling. The gritty setting, and the gritter characters you meet, aren’t easily forgotten.
Why it got 3.5 stars:
- Good Time is a wild ride. It's 90 minutes of "how's he going to get out of THIS one?" Pattinson is fully committed, and he turns in a masterful performance.
Things I forgot to mention in my review, because, well, I'm the Forgetful Film Critic:
- There is a lengthy subplot involving Connie getting mixed up with an African-American teenage girl, Crystal, just so he can use her grandmother's car. In a good example of the more serious things Good Time has on its mind, there is a point when both she and Connie are confronted by the cops. Throughout the whole movie, you are never as worried about Connie as you are about Crystal in this one moment.
- Long live synthpop. Lopatin's score is transcendent. It adds a stylish and invigorating layer to the whole movie.
Up Next at The Forgetful Film Critic:
- Down here, they all float! I was (and still am) a big fan of the 1990 TV miniseries adaptation of Stephen King's book It. I've never read the novel, but I've seen the miniseries countless times. It is getting the big screen treatment, and I'll judge if the actor stepping into the role of Pennywise the clown does as chilling of a job as the legendary Tim Curry did 27 years ago.