In The Safdie Brothers crime drama Good Time, Constantine “Connie” Nikas (Robert Pattinson) doesn’t have a very easy going twenty-four hours. Connie snatches his mentally handicapped brother, Nick (Ben Safdie) from a mental health facility in order to aid his attempt to rob a busy New York bank. Shortly afterwards, the brothers are on the run from the police before Nick is captured. Connie finds out that he needs $10,000 to bail out his brother. The next scene shows a scared and confused Nick being escorted into the prison. There’s no doubt that he feels alone, but he also doesn’t have a complete understanding of his situation and surroundings. All we really see is the close-up of Nick walking past the concrete walls. Then the opening credits roll.
On an immediate surface level, it’s hard not to see the influence of directors like Sidney Lumet and Martin Scorsese. Resembling a mix of the desperation from Dog Day Afternoon and the structure of After Hours, Ben and Josh Safdie create a film that never lets up on the tension until it asks the audience to stare into the dark soul of Connie. The score from electronic music pioneer Daniel Lopatin aka Oneohtrix Point Never is an irreplaceable piece of the puzzle to create tension and chaos. Lopatin’s abrasive score should be considered among the loudest yet restrained pieces of music this year. The music drops away entirely during certain quiet moments only to race back. Like a great horror movie, Good Time never offers the audience too much time to breathe.
It doesn’t take an English major to know how deceptive the title, Good Time, is. We follow Connie over the night as he struggles to make the right decisions to get his brother out of jail. The love both brothers share for another is unquestionable. Their early moments show a mentally challenged younger brother who will do anything for his big brother. In the opening moments, it’s difficult not to see the manipulation Connie has put his brother through. Nick follows his older brother like it’s all he knows. In these short opening moments, the Safdie brothers show their power behind the camera. That’s not to say the writing by Josh Safdie and previous collaborator Ronald Bronstein isn’t incredibly effective. It becomes just as pivotal in the final moments.
Connie’s desperation through the film never ceases to explore his lack of morality. For every plan that Connie comes up with, every person is expendable as soon as they’re not useful anymore. It’s in the moments where you see where those people end up that the film takes a pause. The Safdies have the music quiet down and give viewers to comprehend the consequences of the protagonist’s actions. It’s no coincidence that a large portion of the people he mistreats are black. Despite the lack of dialogue suggesting racism, the editing allows for the obvious to come to the forefront. Connie may not think he sees different races of people differently; he surely seems to pick them as his victims. His choice of mask to use during the early bank robbery is of a large, caricatured black male. It’s in these small decisions that display the underlying racism and privilege he carries.
There’s a significant shift in the dynamics when New York bro, Ray (Buddy Duress) enters the film. He tells a story of a wild debaucherous night and how he landed in the hospital. As two men both willing to do whatever it takes to get out of the night unscathed, neither of them trust each other, but they trust that they can each use one another. It’s their partnership that cements a scummy feel over the characters’ actions. Ray makes a comment about a black man Connie nearly beats to death, but it’s a comment that isn’t one of shock, rather one of flat acknowledgement. Neither one of these people care about anyone. Except for Nick, of course.
I’m sure there are people out there arguing that there’s an endorsement of the characters’ vile behavior. Looking at a surface level, Good Time is a film that looks and sounds striking. Cinematographer Sean Price Williams makes the grimy parts of New York as stylish as I’ve ever seen them. The aforementioned score is electric in ways that a lot of scores forget they can be an active part of the language of film. But make no mistake; beneath the surface level is a film about letting people down. Connie takes to disposing of people after their use to him is over too well. Connie never takes the time to think that the best possible solution for Nick is a life without Connie in it. After a beautifully downbeat final scene, there’s no question where Good Time thinks these people belong.