Lush "Good Time" Ranks Among Year's Most Memorable

Just when it seemed like esteemed indie distributor A24 was running out the clock on survival thriller “It Comes At Night” as the most poorly titled movie of summer 2017, they’ve tossed a screwball into the mix. The Safdie Brothers’ “Good Time,” a sleek, small-scale crime thriller, arrives with a title that’s half humdrum, half incongruous, seemingly plucked at random from a throwaway line of dialogue spoken by a supporting character. Fortunately, the film, or at least the first two-thirds of it, is a distinctive head rush that pairs a handful of refreshingly earnest performances with a great sense of style, topped off by a Vangelis-inspired score that ranks as one of the year’s very best.

Billed as a breakthrough for erstwhile “Twilight” star Robert Pattinson, “Good Time” is exactly that; it finds its star revealing layers of himself that didn’t so much as flicker in the $3 billion-grossing vampire romance series. Here he plays Constantine “Connie” Nikas, a scrappy New York bank robber who shamefully enlists his developmentally disabled brother Nick (expertly played by co-director Ben Safdie) to help him relieve a Flushing, New York bank of $65,000. Pattinson’s portrayal is a deft mix of confidence and folly, as manic and magnetic as the film unfolding around him.

The duo is successful in their robbery until they aren’t. As soon as they’ve ditched their disguises and innocently hailed a cab, a dye pack – placed by a sly bank teller – explodes in one of their bags, sending them scurrying into a Domino’s Pizza bathroom while a jittery manager shrieks at them through the door. Soon after they exit the restaurant, they’re confronted by a cop and Nick panics, leaving him to be dragged off to Riker’s Island while Connie escapes. The rest of Josh Safdie and Ronald Bronstein’s screenplay follows Connie on a series of increasingly desperate attempts to rescue his vulnerable brother from one of the roughest jails in the United States.

As sleek as the visuals are – think Harmony Korine’s “Spring Breakers,” also from A24 – the biggest wave the movie catches is its music. From Daniel Lopatin, aka Oneohtrix Point Never, the synth-based soundtrack calls to mind Vangelis’ eternal “Blade Runner” score and John Carpenter’s “Escape From New York” title track. It is indispensable to the defiantly slight story being told here, infusing a low-key crime caper with massive soundscapes that might one day grow into the iconography of its obvious influences. Strip the picture of its soundtrack and it isn’t half as effective, making Lopatin its obvious MVP.

That’s not to undercut the impressive work from the Safdie brothers and their rock-solid cast. They direct each performer with pinpoint precision – Jennifer Jason Leigh is reliably excellent in an underutilized role as Connie’s girlfriend – keeping the entire piece of one thematic persuasion. Underneath it all, this is not a film about crime or excess or questionable decision-making, but the omnipresence of consanguinity. And that’s made evident in every performance, from Pattinson’s wild-eyed turn to Taliah Webster’s performance as Crystal, the unassuming 16-year-old unknowingly thrown into Connie’s amusement park life.

The script succumbs to wheel spinning in its third act – a sequence inside a literal amusement park drags beyond reason – but the talent both behind and in front of the camera keeps us enveloped, no matter how abrasive or alienating Connie becomes. As the Safdies’ highest profile release yet, “Good Time” is absolutely a creative success, but more than that it’s an announcement; that they are worthy of serious regard, both now and moving forward, solid bets to keep pushing the medium forward in their own idiosyncratic way. If “Good Time” isn’t quite a good time, it’s a great time to get on board with its unusually inventive creators.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★★★★ out of ★★★★★ (Very Good)

Release Date: August 11, 2017 (Limited)
Studio: A24
Directors: Ben Safdie, Joshua Safdie
Screenwriters: Joshua Safdie, Ronald Bronstein
Starring: Robert Pattinson, Ben Safdie, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Taliah Webster, Barkhad Abdi, Buddy Duress
MPAA Rating: R (for language throughout, violence, drug use and sexual content)