Good Time opens with a slightly PBS “kids-in-crisis” documentary feel: Aging psychologist (Peter Verby) talks to obviously neuro-atypical young man trying to draw him out and get him to participate in the test he’s trying to administer. The young man, Nick (Benny Safdie), doesn’t understand exactly what’s going on but he knows he doesn’t like it. He’s visibly uncomfortable, distrusting, borderline hostile, and increasingly upset. His counseling session is abruptly and loudly interrupted – just as it looks like he’s about to have a breakthrough – by his belligerent brother Connie (Robert Pattison). His presence breaks the mood; injecting an almost frantic energy into both his brother and the film’s pace.
The Nikas brothers are closely bonded, co-dependent, and criminally inclined. These “not so petty” criminals pull off a bank robbery – it wasn’t a bad plan – but bungle the get away.
After a madcap dash through the open air markets and the city streets, Nick gets tripped up and captured. The next series of events demonstrate, that while Connie is really not a good guy, he’ll go to extraordinaire lengths to try to free his brother from jail.
Robert Pattison and Benny Safdie each turn in magnetic performances that anchor the outright insanity of the situations they find themselves in while together and separately. Their relationship is touching, tragic, and very toxic. Each dealing with the circumstances with violence and a belligerent refusal to admit defeat. Their every mistake further peeling back the layers on their thought process and inability to connect.
Jennifer Jason Leigh brings Connie’s highly unstable girlfriend, Corey, to life with flair and melodrama. Her tantrum-prone and tear-filled delivery of a “poor little rich girl” clearly smitten with Connie further adds to the film’s chaotic energy and winding plot. At one point, Leigh’s overblown and public meltdown are the perfect backdrop to highlight the seeming fruitlessness of Connie’s every attempt – and failure – to turn the night around.
While I wasn’t sold on all the Safdie brother’s decisions, (I’m never, ever going to co-sign on placing young black girls in hyper-sexual and inappropriate situations as a plot device) the film is an evocative and volatile thrill ride completely believable because of the absurdity of it all.
The film’s themes of loyalty and brotherhood play out in ways that highlight the inadequacies of the justice system, the realities of a non-neurotypical person in prison, the futility of life within the criminal class, how easy it is to cast a dark-skinned person as the villain, and the utter dysfunction of it all with an almost understated grace. The Safdie brothers rightly let the action and visuals do most of the work. Good Time is ultimately a steady-paced, dark-edged drama with excellent acting and character portrayals. The direction choices and visuals created a mixed media vintage fill with more than a few neon-infused elements to keep the atmosphere from being unrelentingly dark and unforgivably dreary.
With a retro-vibe that fits both the story and the city, the Safdie brother’s have again proven that guerrilla thrillers rooted in the grand theatrical are where they excel. This story unfolds with a captivating semi-psychotic look and feel. The cinematography is gritty, dark and hyper-realistic. The music gives the film’s pace an edgy rhythm that keeps you unsettled and engaged as Connie’s ill-contained frenzy drives him to ever-increasingly dangerous – and idiotic – schemes in his attempt to free his brother and continue to elude capture.
Good Time offers up a seemingly simple story that’s anything but straight forward in the telling. It a worthy ride with unpredictable twists and turns, compelling – and disturbing – dramatic moments, and more than it’s fair share of the absurd, violence, and grime.
I’m still not sure I’ve processed everything this film had on offer and that more than anything else is why I enjoyed it.
If you’re in the mood for a crime drama tale of misadventure that drives common-place themes into the surreal at 100 miles per hour then Good Time is exactly what you need.
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