The sleazy, bleak, and primal low budget crime thriller “Good Time” feels like a cinematic punch in the face. The more I think about this film through my figurative black eye, the more I like it. It’s rare to find a movie so confident and wholly committed to its bleak tone, bursting onto the screen in its opening scene with a disarming, bold swagger. This one is reminiscent of Scorsese’s early works but it never once feels like a cheap rip-off of the auteur.
A nearly unrecognizable Robert Pattinson (kudos to him for taking on challenging and unglamorous roles like this) is incredible as scumbag Connie, a low level criminal who has industrious and ambitious ideas but is far from smart. After persuading his developmentally challenged brother Nick (a fabulously understated Benny Safdie) to serve as his wing man in a bank robbery, everything goes wrong and his brother is captured and arrested while Connie runs free. The next hour is spent riding shotgun with this despicable man as he tries to free Nick from police custody.
Connie traverses the city streets throughout a sleepless night and grows increasingly trapped in this nightmare. As the evening progresses, he becomes even more desperate and begins mentally or physically harming everyone who crosses his path, from an amusement park security guard (Barkhad Abdi), a teenage girl (Taliah Webster) and her immigrant grandmother, and a newly paroled drug dealer (Buddy Duress) with a soda bottle full of LSD.
Connie isn’t a nice guy. He exploits his brother as a criminal pawn, he verbally abuses his unstable girlfriend Corey (Jennifer Jason Leigh), he has harsh racist tendencies that subtly manifest in different ways, and he takes advantage of nearly everyone who crosses his path. He’s not really nice to anybody except his brother and a dog, but Pattinson is so incredibly amazing in the role that I actually became disgusted with myself as I inexplicably began rooting for this amoral, predatory man to get away from the cops. This is one of those defining moments for an actor, and Pattinson is unforgettable. Comparisons to a young Al Pacino are inevitable.
This film oozes indie spirit throughout and feels intimately personal, which isn’t a surprise because bothers Benny and Josh Safdie had a hand in just about every aspect of the movie, from writing and directing to editing, sound design, and acting. The film’s phenomenal sound is particularly effective, with a harsh, pressure cooker of an original score to the ear-splitting sound effects that serve as a mirror to the overall discomfort and discord of the script. The story is simple yet filled with so many abrupt narrative jolts that it shocked and surprised me more than a few times.
The only criticism I have for the entire film (besides its irritatingly ironic title) is the epilogue, which I won’t spoil in this review. It has a pronounced tacked-on vibe, an unnecessary piece that the directors should’ve cut but just couldn’t let it go. Yeah, I get what they’re trying to say here, but there’s no sense in beating audiences over the head with it. We’re much smarter than that.
This movie accurately echoes the desperation in last year’s bleak “Hell or High Water,” telling a similarly mesmerizing story of an American man who has nothing to lose and will therefore take anything he can. The grimy urban landscape of New York City manifests itself through intense, textural, dreamlike visuals that feel more like a nightmare. Every scene is alive with a squalid vibrancy and a pulsating tension, yet it’s beautifully done and never showy.
“Good Time” may have a morally repugnant protagonist, an unpleasant narrative, and an unsettling vibe, but it’s also one of the best movies of the year.