The first character we meet in “Good Time” is Nick Nikas (co-director Benny Safdie), a unibrowed schlub with unspecified mental challenges that render him simple and compliant. Nick is with a kindly therapist, who draws tender emotions from him before his wiry, shifty-eyed, goateed brother, Connie (Robert Pattinson), busts in and angrily hustles him out of there. Connie claims to only have Nick’s best interests at heart, but that rings false. We know his type.
Benny Safdie, his brother/co-director Josh, and co-writer Ronald Bronstein know Connie’s type as well, a scrawny lowlife Queens criminal who always seems to be on drugs (something in the speed family) even when we haven’t seen him take any. Connie makes his trusting brother his accomplice in a stupid bank robbery, then spends the rest of the film trying to free Nick from police custody while evading the cops himself. “Good Time” is a somewhat ironic title for a sweaty, panicky, crime caper focused on a bad guy, but the sleazy thrills do have entertainment value (if your blood pressure can take it).
Connie’s first attempt at getting Nick out of jail is legitimate — he goes to a bail bondsman (Eric Paykert) — but it quickly melts into a disaster. The bondsman can’t take a lot of the stolen bank cash (it’s been marked with dye), so Connie needs another $10,000, which he tries to get from his girlfriend, Corey (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a fellow junkie who’s twice his age and is trying to steal the money from her own mother’s credit card. The scene in the bail bondsman’s office is the movie in a nutshell: a comedy of errors among greasy, desperate losers prone to violence and agitation, amplified by Oneohtrix Point Never’s intensely loud electro-industrial musical score.
The Safdies set most of the story within the confines of one very long night. Connie ends up teamed with a random dirtbag named Ray (Buddy Duress) who has a lead on scoring a valuable cache of LSD, and the two of them bounce from one predicament to another as they impose upon, take advantage of, and do outright harm to good-hearted strangers. These include a hospital van driver (Craig Mums Grant), an elderly woman (Gladys Mathon), her 16-year-old granddaughter Crystal (Taliah Webster), and the security guard (Barkhad Abdi) at a shuttered amusement park.
All of them, it is interesting to note, are black, and Connie and Nick pulled the bank job while wearing rubber masks of black faces. Everywhere Connie goes, he hurts minorities. There are no explicit discussions of race in the film, but that might be the point. This clueless idiot (who perhaps represents a common mindset) doesn’t realize the damage he does as he tromps around the borough, doesn’t see how it escalates with each encounter. We’re forced to conclude that Connie is a psychopath.
And man, does Robert Pattinson ever sink his teeth into the role of a psychopath! With a meaty Queens accent and an unpredictable temper, Pattinson makes Connie a compelling jerk whose increasing sliminess makes him a figure of horrified, open-mouthed fascination. It’s only through the detachment of fiction that most of us can watch somebody like this, and even then you need a shower afterward. Whatever objectives the Safdies had in mind (and it is not clear to me what they were), they’ve succeeded at capturing a manic, jangling underside of humanity.
B (1 hr., 40 min.; )