Destined to screw over this generation of box office workers, Good Time is in no way the good time it professes. A shadow universe take on Martin Scorsese’s too-overlooked After Hours–right down to its red-fingernail-handed-twisting, hand-painted poster—Good Time is an overnight run following a man-on-a-mission as he passes through a rotating series of authentically New York supporting characters. The grandparent looking for a nice, pleasant time at the movies is going to demand a refund for what they instead find here, but for anyone looking for an hour-an-a-half panic attack of criminal thrills, Good Time delivers with admirably brisk consistency.
Twilight icon Robert Pattinson heads up the film in a compelling, Brit-playing-Queens-kid performance that puts two-thirds of our Spider-Men to shame. He plays Connie Nikas, a smalltime crook and natural conman, cunning and always ready to pivot no matter where the morally ambiguous situation guides him. He’s George Clooney criminal-slick, but with none of the buffoonery or Hollywood gloss that typically follows. His brother Nick, played by co-director Benny Safdie, looks like a primitive Josh Peck and deals with a fairly severe mental disability. A loyal and loving sibling, despite his faults, Connie enlists Nick’s help to rob a bank in some masks plucked from the same uncanny valley as Drive‘s rubbery headpiece. Thanks to the typical reasons a couple guys don’t get away with robbing banks, Nick ends up getting caught and thrown in jail—a place Connie is rightly convinced Nick will not exactly fit in.
While that setup propels Connie on his all-night mission to get his brother out at any cost, it’s the film’s formal elements that are the gas in this ever-chugging, Mad Max: Fury Road-level engine. From its opening moments, Good Time‘s intensity builds with a pumping synth score that scarcely stops until a relieving finale ironically provided by punk provocateur Iggy Pop. Layered atop that is an assault of diegetic cacophony from the likes of simultaneous phone calls, prison rioting, and, literally, the sounds of a spooky haunted house.
For as many films that are aiming or claiming to be “gritty,” directors Ben and Josh Safdie and their repeat cinematographer Sean Price Williams have managed the real deal here. The film presents a documentary realness, seemingly lit—if you could even call it as much—by whatever practical bulbs are already illuminating a scene. And every grainy shot is overwhelmingly, in either sense of the word, captured in extreme close-up.
But perhaps the realest of the too-real is supported by the actors. Pattinson almost unrecognizably plays down the brooding, model-esque faces of his Twilight and real-life fame here, maintaining his undeniable charisma but falling into a disarming, wide-eyed naturalism. A unibrowed, lip-chapped Ben Safdie, going against the common Tropic Thunder wisdom, goes “full retard,” so to speak—and the results are wildly, bravely convincing. His name being listed as a co-director is all that will keep audiences from checking Safdie’s authenticity. He makes Forrest Gump and [I Am] Sam look like even lamer cartoons than history has already made them. The rest of the cast—save for a briefly-appearing Jennifer Jason Leigh—is filled out by almost wholly amateur actors; their raw authenticity is almost as painfully real as the dark realization that Good Time is technically a Christmas movie. One of the best worst Christmas movies.
If there’s a real criticism for Good Time, it’s that it’s hardly even a film to like, and certainly not one to love. It’s a brutal, ugly frenzy of a movie without a memorable image or a line of quotable dialogue. Yet it’s fitting that a large section of the film’s ongoing adrenaline rush takes place in the rundown theme park of Adventureland. Similarly, the film is a sensory-assaulting mix of loud sounds, colored lights, and the shouting people of Queens. And, most of all, it provides one hell of a treacherous ride you should probably not go on twice. It could well fall apart, but it’s really something the first time.
Director: Ben Safdie, Josh Safdie
Runtime: 99 minutes
Cast: Robert Pattinson, Benny Safdie, Buddy Duress, Taliah Webster, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Barkha Abdi