Good Time” is a tense and hypnotic ride through the streets of New York. Directed by up and comers Josh and Benny Safdie, the film tells the story of degenerate bank robber Connie Nikas (Robert Pattinson) who tries to get his mentally handicapped younger brother Nick (Benny Safdie) out of police custody following a heist. However, over the course of one exhausting night, with the cops on his trail, his life collapses into queasy neon lit chaos.
The Safdie Brothers, along with cinematographer Sean Price Williams capture this chaos via kinetic and intimate hand held photography— most of the time the characters are framed through tight, claustrophobic close ups. Accompanying this oppressive visual style is a loud, grinding, frenzied electronic score by composer Oneohtrix Point Never (complete with arcade game bleeps and blorps and even horror movie strings) that makes even the most mundane run through a deserted hospital hallway nail bitingly intense. Sometimes the score can feel overbearing and unnecessary, especially when it blares up during a casual conversation, undercutting the drama. But by and large it gives the film an eerie, otherworldly dimension.
“Good Time” finds a sweet spot between rough around the edges realism and a disorienting, semi psychedelic stylishness. On the one hand, it uses handheld cameras, real locations, a low budget, and nonprofessional actors mixed in with established ones. The performances are energetic but natural, while the dialogue sounds conversational and unscripted. At the same time, the film is very deliberate in its frenetic editing, score and narrative tightness. The film is both freewheeling and meticulously crafted-- a dreamy and gritty urban odyssey.
Narratively, the picture is a high-octane tour through dingy, unglamorous New York and a visceral, dour crime film (a sort of modern, ADHD tinged “Mean Streets”) featuring a truly detestable screwup protagonist.
From the very beginning Connie is actively unlikable. He drags Nick out of a psychiatric program that he thinks is damaging to Nick and proceeds to immediately throw him into harms way, via the bank robbery. Connie is reckless and self-centered. He sets out on his mission to bail Nick out of jail, relying on the generosity and resources of friends (his older girl friend, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh, tries to use her mother’s credit card) and random strangers. In his reckless and single-minded ways, Connie screws over just about every person he comes into contact with, including a sixteen-year-old girl (played by Taliah Webster). He’s a running disaster.
It can be difficult to watch “Good Time” because of all this; many times I wished for Connie to get apprehended or simply hit by a bus. He’s not even a sympathetic or a tragic figure and there isn’t much character growth. Scene after scene he continues on a downward spiral, on a mission that was doomed from the start. By the end, I rooted for his inevitable demise. However, what makes Connie’s disastrous odyssey at least partially fascinating is his delusional and gradually destructive entitlement. Connie spends the entirety of “Good Time” taking advantage of others (taking their cars, phones, apartments) while still viewing himself as the victim--blaming others for his own idiotic screw-ups. At one point he even accuses another person he meets named Ray (Buddy Duress) of being entitled and dependent on welfare. Uh, didn’t you just force your girlfriend to use her mother’s credit card for bail money a few hours ago?
As the film moves along Connie’s sense of entitlement strengthens and his actions become increasingly heinous. His lowest moment comes near the end when he and Ray break into a closed amusement park to retrieve a hidden sack of drug money. When he encounters the security guard, (played by Oscar nominee Barkhad Abdi) Connie beats him to a pulp, force feeds him liquid LSD and takes his uniform as the cops arrive, essentially stealing his identity and framing this poor man for his own crime.
Pattinson is terrific as Connie—nervous and unhinged in a way that never turns into caricature or becomes melodramatic. Like Kristen Stewart, he’s blossomed into a superb actor post “Twilight,” able to disappear completely into every role he takes on. As gloomy and infuriating as “Good Time” can be, Pattinson’s commitment and energy to such an unpleasant character, along with the Shafdi Brother’s kinetic style, make it intense and absorbing.