You might never have even heard of Good Time, and that’s okay. It was a small film that didn’t make a lot of waves, despite its lead actor. And again, directors Josh and Benny Safdie deliver a tense, creative experience that isn’t for everyone, as with their following film Uncut Gems, centering on a broken character making poor choices. It’s a fascinating watch, no matter your opinion at the end, the way it’s told as much a reason to give it a chance as how the performances shape it.
Robert Pattison is Connie Nikas, a smalltime troublemaker trying to care for his brother Nick (Benny Safdie – one of the directors who does some quality acting, especially in a key closing credits moments), a mentally handicapped man who is getting court-ordered help after an altercation with their grandmother. Angry at the therapist (Peter Verby) for what he thinks is manipulation, Connie bursts into the session and takes Nick away. Not long after, Connie forces Nick to join him for a bank robbery (that is clever), getting away with sixty-five thousand dollars, but once in the cab trying to escape, the dye-pack inside explodes, causing an accident. Not long after, police catch up and arrest Nick while Connie gets away.
Trying to get money for a bail bond, Connie convinces his older girlfriend (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to use her mother’s credit card, but not before her angry mother cancels the account. Desperate for cash, Connie learns that Nick was involved in a fight in jail, and is now in the hospital. Thinking this an opportunity to break him out, Connie manages to get into the room where Nick is recovering and steal him out of the building, eventually finding refuge in the home of an older woman and her sixteen-year-old granddaughter (Taliah Lennice Webster). Problem is, once there, Connie makes a startling realization and soon is facing a choice of life or death.
There’s a gritty, tough, in-your-face style of filmmaking the Safdie Brothers are getting known for, cinematographer Sean Price Williams almost breathlessly keeping these few characters in a constant state of motion. These are not smart people, making all the wrong decisions in life, but Connie is resourceful, much like his counterpart Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler) in Uncut Gems, keeping level-headed and quickly making adjustments as the times call for them. Pattison plays Connie wired and weary, disheveled and unkempt, frazzled and hanging by a frayed thread. It’s absolutely magnetizing, one of those performances where you’re not sure what to make of it as it starts, but not long after are so engrossed in what he’s doing with it, you cannot stop watching. I mean, just look at him.
And that is the beauty of a character like Connie, one that you are practically yelling at the screen the entire time to do something different, only to watch them steadily slip further into the abyss. There are several escalating moments where this comes into play, and by the time it ends up in a dank living room, Connie on the sofa next to a sixteen-year-old girl and forced to make a decision that repulses the viewer, it becomes a ticking timebomb of tension. I won’t reveal what secrets lie in the room beside them, but it shifts just about everything you think is about to happen. It’s incredibly rare for a film to surprise me. This one did.
There is, among the pressure and stress of the chase, an almost overwhelming sense of sadness about Good Time. Nick is a man who isn’t getting the proper help he needs. Connie is without the skills or background to dig himself out the ruts he remains, living life on whatever he can squeeze out of those he is close to. He’s still a good man though, at least in bits and pieces, the movie taking the time to show him so, or, and this is part of the true greatness of the story, is he manipulating us as well? There’s a small moment in the hospital where, hiding in a room, he offers a sick elderly woman the cup of apple juice on her bedtable. You feel intense sympathy for Connie as he holds the plastic container, giving the suffering woman a moment of comfort. Then he pulls it away and finishes the juice for himself and you’re left to wonder, is this what he knows? To share a lot and take a little, the only way he can survive? It’s a subtle but highly illuminating invitation into the mind of Connie.
I will not spoil the ending of this of course, but there is a closing sequence that reminded me a lot of another often overlooked movie called Certain Woman. It is a long moment where we see in Connie’s face something we haven’t see before, and what Pattinson does in this shot is one of the reasons why I watch movies in the first place, to feel something from an actor without the props of the film around it funneling me into an emotion the filmmakers want me to have. There is subtlety here as well, with some soft camera work that changes the foreground, and it’s important to keep that in mind, but it’s all about Pattison. Watch this movie.