With their audacious new movie Good Time, Josh and Ben Safdie present a harsh, unblinking look at a criminal so beholden to his narcissism that it’s difficult to find sympathy for him. Yet, somehow, they make the shifty character of Connie Nikas, played by an amazing Robert Pattinson, intriguing, if not — at the very least — tolerable. The low-budget indie’s charms lie in the almost visceral connection between directors and actor. Ben Safdie not only gets credit for sound design and editing but plays Connie’s developmentally handicapped brother, Nick Nikas. Then there’s the suffocating camera work, which ranges from frantically unstable to extremely intimate in closeups. Finally, Pattinson gives a steely performance portraying a man with a complex love for family and a wily way with people. It all makes for a riveting movie with a distinctive, earthbound voice about people most would prefer not to notice.
Connie indeed seems to love his brother. However, what kind of brother places his loved one in the peril this guy does? When Connie busts him out of a therapy session at the start of the movie, it’s not so much to protect Nick from a line of questioning that upsets his younger brother but to break an association with inferiority. At best, this love comes as an extension of familial blood. It’s as if Connie thinks no man related to him should need a therapist who talks to him like a little boy. Connie is multilayered in his complex. Despite a slovenly, overgrown goatee, he is a control freak. It’s about taking control of his family narrative, which is as distant as a harsh past with a disappointed grandmother and as bold as a drive to spring Nick from police custody after the brothers’ botched attempt to rob a bank.
The Safdies, whose last film this writer reviewed was a documentary about a promising basketball player who blew it (Film Review: ‘Lenny Cooke’ offers compelling lessons of a talented loser), show an immense sympathy for these characters with a simple cinematic gesture at the start of the film. An aerial shot of New York City pulls in toward a particularly nondescript building and cuts to a slow zoom out from the sad eyes of Nick in therapy. The camera is often tight on faces, not just capturing imperfections like scars and uneven stubble but also the intimacy of ticks and gestures that make these people who they are. A sonic stylization coats the film’s pulsing, sometimes piercing, soundtrack by Oneohtrix Point Never (credited by his name Daniel Lopatin). And Ben Safdie kicks it up a notch with his editing and sound design. For instance, when a woman’s scream is mixed in the music to echo during a scene that follows. It is as if the sound is haunting the characters.
Good Time has intensity while remaining earthy in its depiction of the real underbelly of the New York crime scene. It does not glamorize mobsters but explores the desperation of people trying to get by in a social system that hardly recognizes them, save for a few caregivers who genuinely seem invested in their work. In his self absorption, Connie hardly recognizes this humanity, using people and lovers, which include an older girlfriend with a credit card (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and a 16-year-old girl with a car (Taliah Webster). Coupled with an intense cinematic style, it’s both gross and enthralling to see this man at work, as he leaves stark chaos in his wake.
Good Time runs 101 minutes and is rated R. It opens in our South Florida area on Friday, Aug. 25, at the following theaters:
- Aventura Mall 24 Theatres Aventura
- Miami Lakes 17 Miami Lakes
- South Beach 18 Miami Beach
- Sunset Place 24 Theatres South Miami
- Cinepolis Grove 15 Coconut Grove
- Cobb Dolphin Cinema 19 Miami
- CMX Brickell City Center 10 Miami
- Gateway 4 Fort Lauderdale
- Sawgrass 23 Sunrise
- Pompano Beach 18 Pompano Beach
For screenings in other parts of the U.S., visit this link. A24 Films invited us to a preview screening for the purpose of this review.