Arts movie review

Are you looking for a Good Time?

The American criminal is explored in the Safdie brothers’ latest film

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Robert Pattinson and Benny Safdie in Good Time.
Courtesy of A24


Good Time

Directed by Josh & Benny Safdie

Written by Ronald Bronstein and Josh Safdie

Starring Robert Pattinson, Benny Safdie, Buddy Duress, Taliah Lennice Webster, Barkhad Abdi and Jennifer Jason Leigh

Rated R, Now Playing

The prologue and epilogue of this film are paramount. Without them, this film would feature Constantine “Connie” Nikas (Robert Pattinson), a hardened criminal who takes advantage of both his brother Nick (Benny Safdie) and his friend and is not above framing murders to avoid arrest. But the bookends reveal Connie’s more empathetic character. The film opens to Connie’s brother, Nick, as he speaks to a psychologist about connecting words. It is clear that he’s experienced cruelty (scissors and pans are painful to him) but his session is cut short when Connie drags him out to rob a bank. Nick is then arrested, and Connie tries to break him out of jail through a series of escalating crimes.

I will speak first about race not because the film doesn’t address it, but rather because it does so in a way that tiptoes around it. In retrospect, the characters’ racism feels subtle because the characters never speak about it. But because this is a film, it is visually there. I note race first because how the film treats race is the most prominent example of the film’s dark humor. Connie and Nick dress up as two black men when they rob the bank. Crystal (Taliah Lennice Webster), a young black girl who lives with her grandmother, is arrested after a white cop presumes that a black girl wandering around is up to no good. When Connie watches her get arrested despite her innocence, the characters’ behavior suggest insensitivity — Crystal seems to simply accept her fate and Connie does not speak up to avoid facing  charges — but the film’s long take as Connie and Crystal stare at each other suggests anything but.

The film, as told from Connie’s perspective, tries to draw your eyes away from the racism until it cannot. The Safdie brothers noted afterwards, writing Connie’s various acts of racial discrimination were intentional, a subtle nod to the unjust conditions that spurned the Black Lives Matter movement. But from the film alone, it is unclear whether the acts were satirical or sincere. Connie is denounced for his crimes, at the very end when he is arrested, but not before collateral damage was dealt and his injustice left unanswered. The film is not as on the nose as the satirical Get Out, but it touches upon how easy it is for one to cross the line.

Connie’s crimes seem more pronounced the longer it’s been since I saw the film. The thrill of a film deludes you into a falsely justifying cruelty. Pattinson plays a mean Connie, who teeters between admirable and deplorable. The rapid filmwork and intimate close ups cut out most of the surroundings. It is uncomfortable to watch what we cannot see. With Oneohtrix Point Never’s experimental music score, the film grows haunting and warped, as Connie easily kills a man and we don’t know when his moral decay began. Maybe it was decaying to begin with. The film straddles a fine line between the believable and the ludicrous with its wilder ventures (How does one confuse another hospital patient with one’s own brother?). It wisely pivots between the two, leaving a high-strung and comedic wild goose chase that is thrilling to watch.

Good Time gazes at the American criminal, a character that is beloved in the film canon yet so condemned in reality. The film tackles the character so deftly that we only realize this irony within minutes of the film’s conclusion, that our hero was not the one we should have been compassionate with. I won’t spoil the final scene, but it is crucial to the film’s message and a clever punch to the gut; credits and music run over an unfulfilled ending that amounts to both everything and nothing.