Robert Pattinson has morphed from vampire to brother-loving bank robber, and New York City has never looked grittier. “Good Time”, an odd title, begins with zooming in on NYC.
The first scene ~a building housing a psychologist ( Peter Verby), who is gently testing an impaired, young man by having him translate idiomatic phrases. The “squeaky wheel” flies by our more literal Nick Nikas ( Benny Safdie), and our tester/counselor moves to word connection technique. What do a pair of scissors and a cooking pan have in common? Is there a connection? Nick responses with ” you can hurt yourself with both”. The viewer intuits that this is a story about survival. And though our examiner is affirming, tears roll down Nick’s cheeks.
Grandmother abuse is mentioned, and older brother Constance ( Robert Pattison) bursts through the therapist’s door yelling,” How would you like it if I made you cry?!” Connie grabs Nick’s arm and tells him that it is just ” you and me. I’m your friend.” The therapist calmly says, ” shame on you, kind brother. You are not helping.” But the die is cast.
Connie drags his mentally challenged brother into his bank heist scheme in the hopes that money by ill-gotten means will solve their problems. His ability to gage situations and people , and to adjust reality for his own benefit is uncanny. Without blinking he manipulates policeman, old ladies, bus drivers, hospital attendants, sixteen-year old girls, and his druggy girl friend ( Jennifer Jason Leigh ).
The heist is a screw-up thanks to explosive red dye and the ” this is all I have” bank teller policy.
Brother directors, Josh and Benny Safdie, somehow get us to empathize with these characters. Pattison’s ” I-did-it smile” dissolves in a great chase scene. Nick ,stymied by an automatic door, ends up in Rikers. The holding cell scene is as wild and scary as any I have seen. And I watched “Prison Break”. We feel for these small time criminals; we understand misplaced brotherly love. Nick in his innocence whines: ” We was going to live in the woods, and I was going to be able to do what I wanted.”
The directors know how to ramp up the tension. Dogs, drug dealers, the amusement park ( so loved by thirty-somethings ) keep us as desperate as the bail seeker and the two-bit crook he mistakenly frees from his hospital bed. It is here where the film veers slightly toward comedy. The story of Ray leads us away from our main character. We miss Connie’s “God bless you’s” and his articulate fast lies. Ray ( Buddy Duress) is a drunken dull crazy. We know we should not laugh. His flashbacks of his past life are extraneous to our main character, ( just another example of the underclass): too many for one film. My favorite line is Connie’s directed to Ray, ” You are drunk as shit, and you are trying to get real with me.”
White Castles, underclass hustles, taxi cab drivers, car mats as barbed wire protectors, and mummy tombs as stash receptacles all play with modern flair. The Somali security guard ( Barkhad Abdi ) updates urban struggles and shows us immigrants working hard to live by the rules. His treatment at Connie’s hands is brutal. Unhinged anger Pattinson can do.
“Stay Calm” seems to be Connie’s mantra, but chaos reigns even with his white privilege glowing. Krystal ( Taliah Lennice Webster ) with her performance as a used teen, so life real that she doesn’t need to act at all, adds to Connie’s casualties.
The camera work is stunning. Lots of close-ups, but bodies tumbling from far off high rises, too. Street scenes and scramble escape mazes amid fierce , pounding beats ramp up our emotions. Even when our two punks are watching Spike tv, it is police violence we see. Neon, almost psychedelic light, pulses.
The end is a paen to the unfairness of life. The final scene is Nick’s. The circle has been painfully closed, and it hurts. Therapists, teachers, try to make life better, but the last image of people aimlessly crossing from one side of a room to the other with no follow-up is devastatingly real. How much of form over substance can a society hold? This film should burst some bubbles. The original sound track and song, ” The Pure and the Damned” says it all.