There’s some strong cinematic DNA to be found within Josh Safdie and Ben Safdie‘s new film “Good Time.” Not only do they invoke early Al Pacino in Robert Pattinson‘s terrific lead performance, they also continue to mine Pacino’s career in other ways. Much like their prior feature, the outstanding “Heaven Knows What,” which was very much a modern day “The Panic in Needle Park,” this new movie feels like another 60s/70s era Pacino picture. Think something along the lines of “Dog Day Afternoon.” That’s not to say that the Safdie brothers don’t put their own spin on things, since they certainly do. It’s merely to say that they’re out there looking back at cinema’s past and attempting to bring it forward into the modern times. Kudos to them. They have a handle behind the camera that will serve them very well during their career.
The film is a kinetic crime drama buoyed by Pattinson’s performance and the thrilling direction by the Safdies. Pattinson has never been better, while Josh and Ben continue to show they’re one of the most exciting independent filmmaking teams out there. Armed with a bit more of a budget than usual, they keep every bit of grit and realism intact, while telling a story with a larger scope than ever before. Slowly but surely, we’re coming to the point where a Safdie production is going to contend heavily for Oscar attention. It’s a question of when, not if. Especially when paired with A24, who seem perfect for this sort of thing. Look at what the distributor does with hard sells like “The Witch.” They can get “Good Time” out into the world and to its audience, without question.
We’re dropped right into the story as Nick Nikas (Ben Safdie) is being questioned by someone. It becomes clear that it’s some kind of court-appointed psychiatrist (Peter Verby), but the session doesn’t last long, as his brother Connie Nikas (Pattinson) bursts in to remove him from the situation. A bank robber, Connie partners with his special needs brother Nick on jobs, one of which is about to go bad in a hurry. The former is clearly a terrible influence on the latter, but they share a strong bond, looking at everything in an “us against the world” way. That will become even more the case for them when Nick is arrested.
Knowing that he won’t make it behind bars, especially in New York City’s horrific Riker’s Island prison, Connie is forced to spend the night doing anything and everything to rescue his brother. Bailing him out may mean saving his life. Faced with needing to break Nick out, Connie begins to get desperate. He ropes in sometimes girlfriend Corey (Jennifer Jason Leigh), as well as a bored teenager, Crystal (Taliah Webster), and fellow lowlife Ray (Buddy Duress). It’s an exercise in bad decisions, one after the other. Everything Connie does is out of love for his brother, but is it too little, too late? Will either one make it through the night? The journey is more important than the destination here, but it all unfolds with an intensity and an urgency that captivates.
Robert Pattinson has never been better than he is here in “Good Time.” Pattinson is able to convey a range of emotions, all while playing a very desperate man. As the clock ticks, you can just see and feel the pressure building for him. He’s come a long way from “Twilight,” that’s for sure. Between this and “The Lost City of Z” earlier this year, he’s continuing to make interesting decisions. Among the cast members, Pattinson is clearly best in show. Again, it’s career best work from him.
Beyond the lead turn by Pattinson, there are some supporting players doing solid work. Jennifer Jason Leigh is mostly wasted, but Buddy Duress and Taliah Webster leave impressions during their brief screen time. In addition to the aforementioned Ben Safdie (doing very nice work) and Peter Verby, the cast also includes Barkhad Abdi. Abdi has one moment in particular that’s sort of an acting powerhouse. They all stand in Pattinson’s shadow, but they all help to execute the vision at hand.
The Safdies have an urgent, hypnotizing visual style. From the cinematography by Sean Price Williams to Daniel Lopatin‘s score, it all comes together. Their direction suggests a future making A-list fare, perhaps even on a blockbuster budget. The script, penned by Joshua Safdie and frequent collaborator Ronald Bronstein, is able to avoid cliches. They’re swimming in previously explored cinematic waters, but the film never feels like repetition. Homage, perhaps, but never repetition. They never take things to the next level, but this still solidly continues to build the Safdie reputation. At this rate, after one or two more movies, they could be in contention for Oscars.
If you’re looking for a filmmaking duo to follow as they evolve, keep an eye on the Safdies and “Good Time.” Pattinson fans will delight in seeing the actor try something new, while those of you compelled by throwback work will definitely dig this. The movie offers more than you might expect. Give it a shot and you just might be surprised by what you find. The film is well worth checking out.
“Good Time” is distributed by A24 and opens in theaters on August 11.