The opening scene of Good Time (directed by Ben Safdie and Josh Safdie with a screenplay by Josh Safdie and Ronald Bronstein) gestures to its latent, although subsequently unfulfilled, potential. Ben Safdie also stars in the film, playing Nick, the younger mentally handicapped of Constantine ‘Connie’ Nikas (Robert Pattinson). In this scene, Nick is being interviewed by a counsellor. Unassuming but unnervingly tense, Nick quietly lets his defences down and opens up, and strains of unresolved melancholy begin to show. However, this exchange is abruptly interrupted, as Connie storms in and takes his brother away. Subsequently, the film transitions and becomes a crime chase thriller. It arguably does not fully capitalize on the absorbing impact of this first scene, but it is nevertheless directed with proficient skill and anchored by a terrific central performance.
In an attempt to secure better lives for themselves, the two brothers rob a New York bank. But a clean getaway is compromised when a dye pack explodes from within the bag of cash. In the frantic chase that ensues, Connie manages to escape but Nick is arrested by the police and detained in jail. Connie tries to gather the bail money by first asking his girlfriend Corey (Jennifer Jason Leigh), but when this falls through he is forced to consider other means. What follows is a winding, convoluted plot whereby Connie solicits help by manipulating basically anyone around him, all in an attempt to rescue his brother from the confusion and isolation of his confinement.
There is a gritty desperate realism to the film, and much of this atmosphere is generated through Sean Price Williams’ sombre cinematography. A dark shadowy ambiance dominates the visual landscape, but flashes of brightness – from TV screens, hospital room lights, carnivals – are also interspersed throughout. They seem to provide hollow glimmers of artificial hope, but the characters also seem to evade the light, as if the harsh glare may shine too much on themselves and their lives that they do not want to confront. This unsentimental realism is also evident in the grounded, convincing dialogue of the screenplay.
Pattinson puts in a fantastic performance, devoid of vanity or self-conscious flourish. In the last few years he has cultivated a body of work which has expanded and deepened his skills as a performer, tackling fascinating and intriguing roles in films infused with distinct directorial visions. His Connie is another laudable addition to his filmography. Resourceful and resilient, there is no doubt that his character is, on some level, deserving of our empathy. But soon our compassion is tested when questions about his manipulative tenacity inevitably arise. Importantly, Pattinson does not shy away from these more unsavoury traits of his character – he embraces this ambivalence, and the film is more engrossing for it.
Good Time may not be able to capture and adapt the opening scene’s riveting mood when its narrative changes pace and tone, but it is nevertheless strong across most of its individual elements, especially its central performance.
Good Time is in cinemas from 12th October through Hi Gloss Entertainment.