Confession: it wasn’t until last year that I first watched the seminal 1980 classic ‘The Blues Brothers’. I know, I know, but put down those pitchforks (they don’t go with that outfit anyway), I adored it. The music, the comedy, and the bat-shit crazy action – all perfect. But what struck me most forcefully about John Landis’ comic masterpiece is the same quality that beats at the heart of filmmaking brothers Josh and Benny Safdie’s equally bonkers, though tonally slightly different, third feature: the film itself is a perfect extension of its central figures.
Just like ‘The Blues Brothers’ is an essential encapsulation of who exactly those two besuited fugitives are, so too is ‘Good Time’ the nervy, jittery, bloodstained and poorly bleached doppelgänger of the character at its centre, brought vividly to life by Robert Pattinson. He stars as Connie Nikas, a low-rent bank robber pulling heists with his mentally-challenged brother Nick (co-director Benny Safdie), before getting drawn into an overnight odyssey after a series of inadvisable events surrounding a job-gone-wrong leave him on the run trying to raise his brother’s bail money.
Let’s get this out of the way first – if you had turned to me during one of the umpteenth unbearable ‘Twilight’ sequels and whispered creepily in my ear, “These two crazy kids are going to be two of the most dependably exciting and interesting actors of their generation,” I would have laughed in your face and then wept for the bleak future of cinema. Instead, you were right and I love you. Kristen Stewart has been pumping out reliably fine work for years now, and with ‘Good Time’ Pattinson takes his place right there with her. He’s fantastic. Scuzzy and impenetrable, vulnerable and world-weary, hilarious and terrifying; he is an amoral force of nature, barrelling through anything and everything that gets thrown at him over the course of a seriously weird night. Every mistake, every dubious decision, we see the inevitability and the acceptance of every one of them flicker across his face as he constantly looks for the exit, for the light at the end of the tunnel that leads him back to the brother that he genuinely loves above all else - no matter what the cost may be.
But the film doesn’t excuse him or lionise him. This isn’t just some scrappy underdog, valiantly doing whatever he must for a purely selfless motive. The Safdies are fully aware that this man is a criminal, and is leaving behind him a trail of broken lives as he picks up whoever he comes into contact with who might also have some way in which they can help his cause, and then promptly discards them as soon as their usefulness to him has run out. Most strikingly, every time this happens, the camera lingers. From major supporting characters to unknown extras, the Safdies constantly surprise by spending that split second more than you’re expecting them to, in order to show you just how much damage this man is leaving in his wake. They’re not just interested in the wrecking ball, but the debris too. And slowly but surely, so is Connie.
However, what this review probably isn’t screaming at you right now is just how goddamn crazy and entertaining 'Good Time' is. Playing like Sidney Lumet snorted a line of cocaine and decided to make a feature-length version of the ‘Goodfellas’ helicopter sequence, this film is breathtakingly unafraid to be ramshackle in its plotting and yet unyielding in its execution. Sure, it stumbles occasionally in its meandering second act, and Academy Award-nominees Jennifer Jason Leigh and Barkhad Abdi are oddly wasted in thankless roles, but flaws and all it still burrows under your skin and agitates your senses. Cinematographer Sean Price Williams hones in on proceedings in nervy, uncomfortable close ups, and editors Ronald Bronstein and Josh Safdie (just one of many instances of the brothers impressively multi-tasking) create a propulsive energy that is brutal in its efficiency, each of which drenches the film in its nasty 70s New Hollywood aroma.
...like Sidney Lumet snorted a line of cocaine and decided to make a feature-length version of the ‘Goodfellas’ helicopter sequence...
What this does is rather than give you the feeling that the movie is about its protagonist, it convinces you that it is inside its protagonist – every shot, set, edit, line, glance, gesture, music cue, sound effect, plot point, they are all intrinsically tied into this person we’re stuck with for almost two hours. It is exhausting and exhilarating in equal measure, but the underlying humanism of the Safdies’ world view (dark and unflinching though it may be) means that buried underneath it all is a jittery, frantically beating heart. And in its very final moments, right as the credits roll, that heart makes itself plain in a surprising moment of quiet beauty.