For the past ten years, Josh and Benny Safdie have been making films about low-to-no income New Yorkers and their means of resort. Their characters have uncontrollable urges (Heroin in Heaven Knows What) and impulses (Stealing in The Pleasure of Being Robbed). Typically casting nonprofessionals, Good Time marks the Safdies’ first work with a major actor: Robert Pattinson, in a role that should put the final nail in the coffin of his Twilight stigma.
The movie thrusts the audience into its criminal underworld immediately: we begin as Connie (Pattinson) and his brother, Nick (co-director Benny Safdie) botch a bank robbery, and the resulting foot chase finds Nick arrested after running through a glass door. With his legs being his only vehicle, Connie tries to help his brother get out of Rikers Island and also while on the run from the police.
The Safdies operate more on the visual spectrum than they do with their writing: rather than establish character traits with dialogue and plot, the Safdies use camera work to observe their characters, and in the case of Good Time, the use of close-ups and 2-perf 35MM to show the characters trapped in a frenetic, dystopian state of mind.
The 35MM is key, since the Safdies’ inspiration comes from the film stock, and how the the grain distorts the actors’ eyes and faces (Digital would sharpen them, by contrast). As the night continues, the stakes become higher and the tension more visceral, and the neon color pallette provided by cinematographer Sean Price Williams adds layers of harshness which intensify the violence; using a new lighting scenario in every scene renders the film unpredictable.
The cast of Good Time is made up of mostly locals from the area, similarly to how the Safdies cast Arielle Holmes in Heaven Knows What after seeing her on a subway platform. The few exceptions are Oscar nominees Jennifer Jason Leigh as Connie’s girlfriend, and Barkhad Abdi as a security guard. The rest are an assorted bunch of characters, ranging from inmates at Rikers Island to bankers, all of whom add to the film’s natural urban roots—a recurring theme in the Safdies’ work.
Summer movies are often regarded as a form of escapism, but Good Time is an escape to a place even worse than our current reality. To see Pattinson shine in this area is a testament to his craft. His performance is everything movie stars shouldn’t be: twitchy, erratic, unhinged, stubborn and ruthless. And to watch him in Good Time is to watch someone who has to carefully think about his next move when the stakes are high and the margin for error is low. He and the Safdies take this drug-fueled anxiety attack right to Hell. Fasten your seatbelts and hold on tightly.