With Robert Pattinson’s Batman currently impressing on the big screen, what better reason to look back at the role which The Batman director Matt Reeves credits as the catalyst for his casting. The Safdie brothers’ 2017 film Good Time is a tense, nervy, caffeine jolt of a crime thriller, which sees Pattinson in top form as a small-time crook, trying to save his brother over the course of 24 agonising hours.
Connie Nikas (Pattinson) and his developmentally disabled brother Nick (co-director, Benny Safdie) rob a bank in New York but bungle the getaway. Nick is arrested while Connie manages to flee the scene. In a darkly amusing piece of irony, Connie attempts to bail his brother using the very same robbery proceeds they just stole. It’s not enough to spring Nick, so Connie scrambles to find $10,000 in a single night, as events spiral rapidly out of his control.
Connie teams up with recent parolee, Ray (Buddy Duress), who knows where a bag of stolen money is hidden, stashed after another botched robbery. While it is definitively a bad idea in any sensible person’s assessment, the money represents Connie’s best (and only) hope of getting his brother out of Rikers Island.
If one of the objectives of cinema is to make us feel something then, based on their recent output, the Safdie brothers want us to feel what it’s like to have a stress-induced aneurysm. Good Time is an expert lesson in uncomfortable tension; a twitchy, squirmy, wriggly succession of bad choices, a domino effect of consequences. In terms of stress, Good Time has only been bettered once: by the Safdie brothers themselves, when Uncut Gems sent audience blood pressure into the stratosphere two years later.
An early scene in a bail bonds office is a perfect example of Good Time’s simmering apprehension. The bondsman is on two simultaneous phone calls, trying to locate Nick in the prison system while, in the background, Connie’s girlfriend Corey (an unsurprisingly excellent Jennifer Jason Leigh) learns her credit card has been cancelled and hollers down the phone at her mother. There’s something extremely aggravating, yet riveting, in witnessing three different, irritated conversations intruding on one another.
In a weird way Connie’s plight in Good Time is like Matt Damon’s in The Martian: in order to prevent a looming disaster from overwhelming him, he breaks everything down into a series of consecutive problems. Fix one, then the next. Unfortunately, Connie is no scientist, and to say he is impulse driven is a massive understatement. He can never focus on the bigger picture, so every new problem he deals with is triage.
Connie is not a good person either. He uses people. He’s a sleazy opportunist. He literally gets his foot in the door, and then takes advantage. And this is where Pattinson’s performance really shines – we stick with a character we don’t really like. We still want to follow him across New York and we want to see him set Nick free.
The film’s pulsing, electronic score, composed by Oneohtrix Point Never (aka Daniel Lopatin), is another contributing factor to Good Time’s intensity. Foot chases and quick escapes merge with the anxiety heightening cues, in a perfect symbiosis of score and visuals. Sometimes the music gives way to something resembling Blade Runner, as we follow Connie around the city from the air; a momentary respite from the mayhem on the ground, a chance to catch our breath.
Good Time is not the best choice if you are looking to relax on a Friday night. But what’s the point of relaxing anyway? If you’re not chewing off your fingernails and screaming into a sofa cushion, how do you know you’re even alive? Good Time is an extraordinarily effective thriller, a reminder that your heart’s still beating.