REVIEW: Good Time (2017)

Director: Ben and Josh Safdie

Cast: Robert Pattinson, Ben Safdie, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Barkhad Abdi

Running time: 99 minutes

4-stars

When a botched bank robbery lands his mentally challenged younger brother Nick (Safdie) in jail, Constantine “Connie” Nikas (Pattinson) scours the New York night-time underworld in a dangerous, desperate bid to free him.

Forget what you think you know about Robert Pattinson. Irrespective of the fact that Good Time takes place largely under the cover of darkness, this is a different kind of Twilight altogether. Following in the footsteps of franchise co-star Kristen Stewart and launching himself into uncharted, off-piste indie film territory, on this showing, the leap of faith might just have been worth it. While this is perhaps the most un-Robert Pattinson film imaginable, it turns out this is quite possibly his best yet.

RPatz plays Connie Nikas – an unstable, manipulative twenty-something with a propensity for criminality. A propensity for a $65,000 bank robbery to be precise. Feeling at home in the dark, acidic ambiance of New York’s early hours, Connie is not so much vampire as he is rough-around-the-edges delinquent with suggestive, but never specified, skeletons hidden away in that closet of his. Somewhere between Gosling’s nameless getaway driver and Gyllenhaal’s Lou Bloom, Connie is the epitome of the anti-hero; just about managing to stay on the likeable side of detestable – largely down to a single redeeming facet of his character: his seemingly unfaltering loyalty to his vulnerable, mentally handicapped brother Nick (played with understated sensitivity by Safdie).

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We first meet the latter in therapy, as his doctor begins to break through the barriers and elicit from Nick what starts to look like engagement. Soon after, however, Connie charges in to break him out, insisting there are more pressing, more important matters at hand – namely, one of the most inventive bank heists in recent times. Shades of Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men provide the opening beats for Connie and Nick’s relationship; and even when things inevitably go tits-up, it’s Nick who takes the brunt and ends up behind bars in a Rikers Island holding cell.

However, as Connie’s twisted odyssey unfolds, and he frantically tries to free his brother through increasingly dubious and dangerous means – including pleading with troubled girlfriend (a wonderfully unhinged Jennifer Jason Leigh) for bail money – the Safdie Brothers’ subtly rich character study begins to paint the suggestion that Connie might just need Nick far more than Nick needs him – and that his entire existence is embedded in a life-long duty to protect his younger sibling. Both touching and desperate, Connie is a protagonist of the most oxymoronic kind: someone simultaneously assertive and assured, but equally fragile and totally lost.

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With Good Time, the Safdie Brothers have crafted something that not only exists as an intriguing character-driven tale, but also works as a slick, fluid and colourfully sinister crime thriller. Just when you thought you’d seen everything the New York crime landscape has to offer, Good Time offers up a fresh slice of gritty city underbelly, as the narrative moves in rather unexpected ways, taking us to some ingeniously unconventional places: a quick stop at an elderly grandmother’s house before a stint in the haunted house ride of a minimalist amusement park – and a chance for a fleeting cameo from Barkhad Abdi (whose talents are wasted in a disappointingly restricted role as a night-shift security guard).

Unsurprisingly, it’s unlikely you’ll be having the kind of time the film’s title suggests, but the Safdie Brothers have delivered a story that, beneath sordidly-bright visuals and behind a relentless, pulsating narrative, cleverly packs a textured and surprisingly powerful punch. A career-best for Pattinson – so far – Good Time is one good thing that is sure to last.

 

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