Josh and Benny Safdie’s Good Time remains an unforgettable theater experience. Their carefully chaotic direction hit me like a vicious hangover from a hard night of drinking. An adrenaline-fueled ode to 70s crime thrillers, the scuzzy world of Good Time felt so uncomfortably tangible. Its grungy, gritty aesthetic envelops you in this hazy nighttime New York odyssey with the types of people we tend to disassociate ourselves with on a day-to-day basis. I could expound upon my admiration for cinematographer Sean Price Williams’ immersive aesthetic or Oneohtrix Point Never’s electronic synth score, but it’s Robert Pattinson’s magnetic performance that gives Good Time its purpose.
When a silent bank heist goes awry, Connie [Robert Pattinson] evades capture while his intellectually-disabled brother, Nick [played by co-director Benny Safdie], takes the fall. Shipped off to Rikers Island, a violent altercation soon after lands Nick in the hospital, sending Connie into a frenzied panic as he turns an expedition for bail money into the most chaotic night of his life.
Pattinson’s Connie is, by design, a character destined to fail. A swift liar and a con man, Connie has a knack for taking a bad situation, and somehow finding ways to make it worse. He’s granted multiple opportunities to walk away, let things take it course. But Connie’s brazen insistence on springing his brother only guides him towards multiple points on no return until it finally catches up with him. Wherever Connie goes, lasting consequences soon follow. He’s toxic – a leech.
The Safdie Brothers’ direction present a manipulative individual with a shifting moral compass defined by who/what can guide him down the quickest avenue to his own self interests. In doing so, Connie creates a ripple effect of emotional and even physical consequences across many individuals throughout Good Time. (*spoilers to follow*)
Very little, if anything, is spoken about their relationship but it can be assumed that Corey [Jennifer Jason Leigh] very much trusts Connie, perhaps based on a romance of sorts. Using this to his advantage, he effortlessly lies to her about his brother’s predicament knowing full well that she’ll do what he says. In addition to the dye-stained money he already lifted, another $10,000 is required by the bail bondsman [Eric Paykert]. Corey’s card is declined, leaving her to fend for herself (arguing on the phone with her mother) as Connie abandons her at the bail bonds office with no ride and seemingly no money. As far as he’s concerned, she’s worthless now. Disposability plays a common theme among the rest of his casualties.
Drawing on his ability to twist the kindness of strangers, Connie takes advantage of Crystal [Taliah Webster], an apathetic 16 year-old girl designated with keeping an eye on the fugitive (unbeknownst to her) as he takes shelter inside her grandmother’s home. If Connie weren’t already as unlikable, there’s a disturbing scene which sees him lay a surprise kiss on the underage girl as a diversionary tactic, blocking her from seeing his mug shot plastered all over the news.
By the time the Adventureland fiasco goes down, much like Corey, Crystal is shoved aside as expendable. A disguised Connie, without hesitation, hands her over to the police, insisting that he has no idea who she is. The tight close-ups play an important role here as it finally dawns on Crystal to what extent he’s been using her out of sheer convenience.
The fate of security officer Dash [Barkhad Abdi] indicates a cruel turn from acting out of necessity to truly acting with malicious intent. By this point, Connie’s acquired a new accomplice (more on him later) and the two quickly scrambling before the police arrive at the empty amusement park Adventureland. As Connie strips an unconscious Dash of his uniform, his accomplice pours a bottle of acid all over his face, a considerably lethal amount flowing into his mouth. Sure is an easy way to discredit anyone. If an overdose doesn’t kill him, who only knows what the police have in store for him?
Good Time’s exceptional opening scene sees Connie rudely interrupting Nick’s therapy session. This is the first of many transgressions he commits in his brother’s name. I believe that Connie loves Nick, yet doesn’t seem to understand how to truly care for him. His unwillingness to acknowledge Nick’s need for psychiatric treatment is misguided at best and dangerous at worst. And yet, Connie ropes Nick, a person who can barely comprehend what he’s being asked to do, into the a bank heist that could (and does) go wrong.
Relegated to the sideline, Nick acts as Connie’s driving force to make even stupider decisions up until his inevitable downfall. However, as Connie’s story comes to a close, a new chapter in Nick’s begins. In the care of his psychiatrist, Nick, under the control of his impulses, participates in a group activity, interacting with questions pertaining to his thoughts and feelings. Ironically, Nick’s salvation also presents his greatest dilemma: Connie’s absence. For all the harm that came his way, Nick still sees Connie as a caring brother who only wanted the best for him. Without Connie by his side, as it’s always been, the change will prove to be a rough transition period.
As the battered, loud-mouthed Ray [Buddy Duress], recently released from prison, recounts an insane series of events over the past 24 hours, Connie is presented with the golden opportunity to fix his mistake. After all, in an effort to yank Nick out of the hospital himself, Connie just so happens to accidentally nab Ray instead. But on a night like this one, Connie’s obsessiveness gets the better of him, propositioning Ray to lead him to a bag of money hidden within Adventureland. Had Connie never attempted the stunt at the hospital, Ray would still be lying in recovery. But in the world of Good Time, Connie’s presence spells doom.
The Safdie Brothers force Connie to watch as Ray, in his own dumb little escape, plummets to a grisly death, hearing the horrifying splat of his body slamming against the pavement. Going by Ray’s decision-making, it would only be a matter of time before he screwed things over for himself but it would have been by his own hand. Connie is inadvertently responsible for Ray’s fall. Now what consequence could prove more damaging than falling from a high-rise apartment building? Look no further than the orchestrator of chaos himself.
And then there was one. After everything he’s done, after everyone he’s hurt, a series of ill-fated decisions finally lands Connie in the back of a police cruiser. Williams’ unbalanced aesthetic frequently serves as an analogy of Connie’s escalation, treading on shaky ground about ready to collapse from underneath him. The defining image of Good Time sees a horrified Connie staring directly into the camera. His endless, horrified gaze reflects the imposing wave of guilt and regret collectively sinking in, sharing a similar concept with Trey Edward Shults’ Krisha in which a character’s destructive actions has led to this vulnerable, soul-crushing realization at the mercy of the audience. At this point, I don’t think Connie has the capacity to ask for forgiveness. He’s finally grasping the ramifications of his monstrous behavior. His good time is up.