In recent years, New York natives Josh and Benny Safdie have compounded themselves as two of the most exciting young directors in the industry today. Their brand of stressful and character-driven crime dramas entered the mainstream with the release of the critically acclaimed Uncut Gems in 2019, but 2017’s Good Time, starring Robert Pattinson, is unmissable.
Following a bank robbery, Connie Nikas (Pattinson) must try and make bail to keep his developmentally disabled brother Nick (Benny Safdie) from prison. Set in a gritty Queens, New York, the film reflects on criminality, family, and inner-city life. Good Time is no cheap thrill; the characters are flawed, people acting with ambiguous morals, provoking thought about how far one would go to protect the ones they love. Good Times does not provide a cut-and-dry ‘good guy’, not even the archetypal anti-hero of many crime films.
Stand out performances include Pattinson and Safdie as brothers Connie and Nick Nikas. Good Time was revelatory for many viewers, showing Pattinson’s skill post-Twilight. His performance is packed with strong, volatile emotion, creating great chemistry with other characters, driving the anxiety of the film. Benny Safdie, director by trade, and neurotypical, performs a respectful portrayal of a man with unnamed developmental disabilities. There is discussion to be had about boosting the presence of disabled actors in the film industry, though Safdie makes sure not to play a caricature. Other actors are exemplary of the Safdie Brother’s brilliant casting of normal, first time actors, often natives of New York and individuals formerly/currently involved in the lives presented on screen. This method provides a layer of realism and uniqueness to the performances of characters that would otherwise be unfaithfully done by the legions of the upper-middle classes in Hollywood.
Alongside the acting, Good Time uses the cinematography to drive the turbulent energy. Most of the shots in the film are close-up, creating an uncomfortable and claustrophobic atmosphere. The close-ups also allow the audience to feel the emotions of the characters on screen. There are also visual motifs of vivid colours, such as Connie’s signature red coat and bleach blonde hair, or the almost magical look of the green sprite bottle (an important plot device) that draw focus against the dark background – a metaphorical light in the darkness of the setting.
Underpinning it all is the frantic electronic soundtrack of Oneohtrix Point Never (Daniel Lopatin), who also worked with the Safdies on Uncut Gems. Reminiscent of the 1970s soundtracks of Tangerine Dream, the music keeps the energy moving throughout the film. A particular stand out track is the decidedly slower and more poignant The Pure and The Damned, featuring Iggy Pop, which scores the heart-wrenching ending of the film.
Good Time excels in intensity, spurred by its strong acting and stunning visuals. Its grimy and realistic characters do not lead to a particularly easy watch, but its energy makes for an extremely fresh experience in an age of slow and not-very-interesting thrillers.
Last modified: 2nd March 2020