Certain cinematic landscapes stay with you long after viewing. Recently, the Cyberpunk wasteland of Blade Runner 2049 and Technicolor wonderland of La La Land. But there are none more evocative than the “city” movies of the ’70s, the grimy and corrupt streets of Gotham depicted in films like Scorsese’s Mean Streets and Lumet’s Serpico. With Good Time — Josh and Benny Safdie’s third co-directorial feature — they have given us a modern reimagining. Its New York setting is a nightmarish milieu where the incessant traffic deafens, buildings bleed neon, and streets are polluted with the kind of scum that would make Travis Bickle pull the tarp off his taxi and dust off the revolver.
In it, Robert Pattinson plays Connie, a petty criminal that has made it his mission to ‘rescue’ his mentally disabled brother Nick (played by Benny Safdie) who was imprisoned after an ill-concocted bank heist. Here the movie begins proper and barely relents for its swift 101-minute runtime. Predictably, Connie’s rescue attempts are thwarted by chaos and misfortune as he scurries through Brooklyn’s Stygian streets over one frosty night. It is the ingenuity with which events proceed that are harder to predict. Pit stops in a desolate amusement park, a stranger’s apartment and moments of mistaken identity blend menace and farce on a gleaming knife-edge.
While there are moments of black humour, its impossible to mistake farce for funny. The film has you so deeply wrapped in its web of anxiety and paranoia that when something comical happens you can’t untangle yourself in time to utter more than a hollow bark. There is a trippy flashback sequence involving Buddy Duress’ Ray that would be hilarious were it not for the act of senseless violence that directly proceeds it. This endless sense of paranoia is courtesy of cinematographer Sean Price Williams‘ claustrophobic hand-held camera, which frames characters in intense close-ups under artificial lights, and Daniel Lopatin‘s throbbing synthetic score that owes much to Tangerine Dream‘s work on William Friedkin’s Sorcerer.
But in his career-best role, Robert Pattinson’s performance is with what makes Good Time so enthralling. His screen presence is intoxicating. Connie is as unsympathetic a protagonist as they come; an impulsive slimeball whose broken moral compass points somewhere between selfish and malicious. His powers of manipulation are evident early in the film when he demands that his girlfriend (played by Jennifer-Jason Leigh) pay for his brother’s bail bond — with her mother’s credit card. He is the type that digs himself deeper and deeper into trouble and then blames someone else for not bringing a ladder.
Pattinson is a bundle of nerves — glancing over his shoulder, around corners, out of windows. He’s rarely able to stay still. We never quite know what he will do next, and one supposes, neither does he. He’s not so much running from the police as he is his own series of stupid decisions, yet he manages to never outstay his welcome. Much of the performance comes down to the eyes, the way they burst from his gaunt face, and the edgy unpredictability of his body language which channels the enigmatic flair displayed by actors like De Niro and Pacino in their most lauded roles.
I saw Good Time on Netflix due to an odd Australian cinematic release. Its theatrical release must be gorgeous. At home on a Friday night, the Safdie brothers’ managed to tear me from my comfortable environment and drop me into an urban cesspool so tactile that I felt as tense as their protagonists. Those ’70s New York crime movies and their memorable anti-heroes remain in the public consciousness 40 years after their release because of vivid environments and compelling characters. In one of the best films of 2017, Connie Nikas joins their ranks.
You can watch Good Time now on Netflix.com and iTunes. Thanks for reading. Let me know what you thought of the film in the comment section below, or on twitter @jayd3l.