Joshua and Ben Safdie’s Good Time is another one of the brother filmmakers’ harrowing odysseys of the marginalized. The plot, kicking off in New York City before moving to the suburbs, spins out from a failed bank heist, as the mentally handicapped Nick (Ben Safdie) is arrested and jailed at Riker’s Island before then being moved to Elmhurst Hospital Center in Queens. Nick’s resourceful brother, Connie (Robert Pattinson), the mastermind of the heist, works on a scheme to get him out. If this premise sounds like typical genre fare, the Safdies get that and they deliver: Good Time is an action-packed, neon-streaked rush, all elaborate scenarios, racing against time, and police in hot pursuit. But this is also a film from the same people that made the emotionally devastating Heaven Knows What, and underneath this film’s barrage of incident and its screaming score (composed by Oneohtrix Point Never) is a sense of intimacy and emotional vulnerability.
Interpersonal drama was a constant in Heaven Knows What, which concerned the turbulent romance between two heroin addicts (played by Arielle Holmes and Caleb Landry Jones), but this time the Safdies are hoping they can lay the foundation of their film’s central relationship with only a select few scenes (Nick and Connie spend almost the entirety of the film apart), leaving the rest of the runtime devoted to breathless entertainment. Mostly this works: Good Time may not muster the same tragic intensity as Heaven Knows What, but it exercises new muscles for the Safdie brothers, namely a sense for dark comedy and elaborately staged and paced set pieces. Even if it all doesn’t connect, the filmmakers have a wild card up their sleeves: Pattinson.
The actor is a physical and emotional force throughout the film. Pattinson’s Connie exudes a simultaneous intelligence and cunning and a hopeless inability to comprehend his own limitations. The actor avoids empty posturing and homes in on his character’s sense of practicality—because the paranoiac Connie never stops thinking about and carefully calculating his next move. There are other memorable characters in Good Time, in particular the perpetual fuck-up drug dealer Ray (Buddy Duress), who Connie breaks out of Elmhurst accidentally, but the film is at its strongest when it keys its intoxicating aesthetic to Pattinson’s performance.
The worst that can be said for Good Time is that the action itself can feel a bit random, careening as it does from the opening bank heist to a hospital rescue mission, hunkering down in the home of a 16-year-old Haitian girl and her grandmother, and later offering up an extended, ridiculous sequence set at the Adventureland amusement park. The logic that drives Connie from one place to the next often feels under-thought, and a lot of his antics—including one Scooby Doo-worthy sequence in which Connie beats up and steals the clothes of an Adventureland security guard—betray the gritty realism of the film’s opening scenes, as well as its believably pathetic (anti-)climax.
Even the most outlandish incidents in the film, though, feel of a piece with the Safdie brothers’ ambitions. If Heaven Knows What represented a baroque heroin nightmare, then Good Time is akin to an acid tweaker’s high, a rush of unblinking adrenaline. It’s a film that shows off the Safdies’ range as filmmakers, while at the same time retaining the ethic of indie-film humanism that’s made their other work so emotionally involving.
The Cannes Film Festival runs from May 17—28.