Josh and Benny Safdie might be the talk of the film world right now with Uncut Gems but 2017’s Good Time remains one of the decade’s finest films. After a bank heist goes horribly wrong, Connie and Nick go on the run, but as the night unfolds so does a neon stained canvas of violence, betrayal and bad decisions.
The Safdie’s film is like the twitchy younger bother of Scorsese’s Mean Streets. Both films inhabit an untrustworthy New York underbelly and feed off the kinetic energy of its anti-heroes as they descend into violence and petty crime. Robert Pattinson’s Connie even feels like the ADHD bastard child of Harvey Keitel’s righteous Charlie but also has the adolescent recklessness of Robert DeNiro’s Johnny Boy.
But like Scorsese’s early masterpiece, Good Time adores its crooks, its low lives and its addicts.
These are people neglected by structures and tossed aside by systems and the Safdie’s bury into that desperation and what it can do to you. The opening scene of the film features Connie intruding on his disabled brother’s therapy session and eventually taking him out of the clutches of the therapist. It’s a delicate but heart-wrenching introduction to two characters who don’t trust the system but may also have no reason not to do so. Those tears that stream down Nick’s face as he’s asked a set of questions is Good Time at its most considered and melancholy, but perhaps its most revealing.
But it’s the central theme of unconditional love in Good Time that gives the film an unlikely warmth that creeps up on you. Connie just wants to look after Nick. He wants to protect his vulnerable brother but as the Safdie’s show us; everyone connected to Connie is eventually smothered by his intentions. The art of self-destruction and the misjudged, toxic love Connie lauds over his brother really gives Good Time it’s aching heart.
However, it just wouldn’t be a Safdie Brothers film without it eating away at your nerves.
Characters are introduced with speedy, frantic close-ups, the moments before all hell breaks loose are ominously hushed in anxiety shredding fashion and the Day-Glo nightmare sheen of it all lends it a playful uneasiness… and cool. But, it’s the danger of the piece that stalks you. The peril and the uncertainty feels almost omniscient and inevitable – we can’t escape it just as Connie and Nick can’t escape their rotten destiny because these are characters trapped in a way of life they just don’t understand.
For all its layers and its affection of its characters, there’s ultimately something dirty and frenzied about Good Time. The film dances and sways with the paranoid urgency of an amphetamine binge and it showers you with LSD laced visuals that eventually culminate in a literal haunted house where Connie is plunged into a plastic hell of grotesque fairground waxworks and gritty brutality.
On further watches, the black comedy of it all reveals itself too – the haphazard, clumsy and downright stupid denouements to ice-cold plans shock and provide a morbid chuckle. The performances get better and better also. Pattinson and Benny Safdie both excel against Sean Prince Williams’s beautifully unwashed and grimy cinematography, and the film wraps up with one of the most haunting and tragic close-ups in recent times.
Uncut Gems will probably be on your watch list in the new year, but make sure you watch Good Time before you go.
Words by Chris Burns