There are no good times in the gritty crime caper “Good Time.” It is a brilliant but brutal film experience. Robert Pattinson is almost unrecognizable as Connie, a small-time crook trying to bail or bust his brother out of Riker’s Island after their bank robbery lands him there.
Every element of this story is carefully detailed and precisely executed. Written and directed by brothers Benny and Joshua Safdie, it also features Benny as brother Nick, a mentally handicapped young man very ill equipped to deal with his problems even before he was imprisoned. The opening scene between Nick and an eloquent and empathetic therapist is almost unbearable to watch because Benny Safdie brings so much anguish to his character.
It’s an understatement to say things do not improve after the first scene. Connie interrupts the therapy and berates the therapist. He thinks he can take care of matters himself. The script offers so much background with so few details; just a few words about the boys’ grandmother paint a vivid picture of their upbringing. Connie is supportive and affectionate toward his brother, but shows his support by bringing the poor guy along on his shoddily executed bank robbery so he can feel important. When things go wrong, of course it is Nick, not Connie, who gets nabbed.
This film is so literally and figuratively dark, and the neon-lit cinematography keeps the viewer uncomfortably close to all the action. Connie and Nick spend a long time in an apartment so dimly lit I could hardly stand it, and the tension created is truly incredible.
I cannot take credit for the very apt comparison this film has repeatedly garnered to “Dog Day Afternoon.” That is a film in which things go from bad to worse to worse to worse, and it tests the endurance of the viewer as the unspeakably beleaguered protagonist is continuously tested as well.
Connie is hapless yet resourceful, and his own manipulative charm is his biggest resource. Every decision seems worse than the one before, yet he improvises and keeps going.
He visits his pathetic, older girlfriend (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who he is using for money in a way that is utterly obvious to everyone but her, and once more we get a lifetime of her story with just a few deft touches. She is more than a fully grown woman, yet her mother is her gatekeeper. A few lines of well-written dialogue give us a very telling window into her life.
“Good Time” is certainly an achievement but it is also excruciating. They’re not going to be adding it to the “25 Days of Christmas” movie lineup anytime soon. The Safdie brothers created a masterwork of complex and realistic characters and the performances are phenomenal. Every character contains multitudes — harsh socioeconomic realities, childhood neglect, sexual proclivities. Even a glance into a character’s refrigerator is more fully realized than the entirety of many other films.
By the end of “Good Time,” you might well find yourself begging for a less successfully realistic film, for it is so effectively rendered that you will experience a lifetime of hardships right along with Pattinson and his unfortunate cohorts.
“Good Time” is currently available to rent.