Since Nightcrawler, no film has better distilled American malaise better than the Safdie brothers’ ironically-named Good Time (2017). The film stars Robert Pattinson in a breakout role as Connie Nikas, an on-the-lam criminal in New York City trying to bail his mentally disabled brother Nick out of jail following a failed bank heist. As he hustles to come up with the $10,000, his night snowballs into a frenzied crime spree that feels utterly surreal as it plunges him into the grime of Brooklyn’s underworld.
Connie is the archetype of today’s aggressive, anti-establishment go-getter. There is a hint of Trump in his bottled-up anger, bald lies, and brash narcissistic scheming. His character wouldn’t have our sympathy at all were it not for his genuine impulse to protect his brother and defy a world that has damaged them both. Pattinson is astounding in the part – single-handedly fuelling the film’s non-stop adrenaline rush as he bursts through doors, rushes down hallways, and rounds corners with razor-sharp quickness.
Good Time’s intensity is also enhanced through its ingenious production design, which includes an award-winning soundtrack from Brooklyn-based musician Daniel Lopatin. His erratic electro-pop score grates against our concentration, lodging itself in our brains like a rickety, ill-devised time bomb that could go off at any moment.
Recalling the neo-noir nightmares of Taxi Driver and Wake in Fright, Good Time suctions us into the paroxysms of its protagonist and propels its deranged odyssey through the sustained use of subjective camera. At the same time, it possesses an urban luridness all its own. Gone are Scorsese’s muted tones, supplanted by jarring neon colors that make the city shape-shift like a toxic kaleidoscope – and flicker like a doomed arcade game whenever cinematographer Sean Price Williams cuts to an overhead view. The fatalism of these high-angle shots coldly counterbalances Connie’s crazed expectations that he will manage to beat the odds and bail out his brother.
Echoing HBO’s New York noir series The Night Of, Good Time uses sprawling images of the urban grid to suggest an inevitable trap around its protagonists – one riddled with dangers for America’s disadvantaged. Through an identity mix-up between Connie and a black security guard, the Safdie brothers incorporate a damning critique of our justice system’s racial disparities, as the officer tries to arrest Connie, only to have the latter beat him unconscious, steal his uniform, then effortlessly frame him as an intruder at the amusement park where he’d been scouring for a bottle of LSD to sell for bail money. “The balance of moral crookedness and conscience in Good Time is a complex one,” notes IndieWire. “That the film works such social nuance into what otherwise amounts to a breathless pulp thriller is perhaps the most impressive of its achievements.”
Locking us into Connie’s rollercoaster quest to liberate his brother, Good Time crafts an anti-establishment crusade comparable to Taxi Driver, Dog Day Afternoon, and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – infecting us with the virus of free-floating anxiety that pervades American culture as much as ever. As they send us hurtling through a labyrinth of impersonal institutions and anarchic drug dens, the Safdie brothers guarantee a cinematic experience that we will be processing long after the chaotic ride has come to a halt.