good time

REVIEW BY SIOMHA MCQUINN

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After a botched bank robbery Connie’s (Robert Pattinson) intellectually-disabled brother, Nick (Benny Safdie), is imprisoned. Good Time follows Connie’s efforts to free his brother, a journey which finds him committing further crimes and leaving a trail of victims in his wake. This story, viscerally brought to life by brothers and directing-duo, Benny and Josh Safdie, seems at odds with its own title as goodness is in short supply throughout.

The first few frames quickly establish the intensity of the following 101 minutes. Extreme close-ups document a counselling session with Nick who slowly allows his emotions to reach the surface. The film retains this invasive style. The widest shots are birds-eye views which remind the viewer of police surveillance. We are intricately involved with the characters but are also given an opportunity to distance ourselves as they become minute figures fleeing the law.

The relationship between the brothers does not garner much screen time but it is important for the narrative. Connie uproots Nick from his counselling session in the belief that it is hurting him. The brotherly relationship appears to be a gritty rehashing of that between George and Lenny in Of Mice and Men. Connie is caring and protective of Nick but this devotion is not demonstrated through his actions.  Unlike George, who has Lenny’s best interests at heart, Connie is selfish. He aims to free Nick from prison despite the fact that it was his own behaviour that landed Nick there in the first place. Ultimately, he won’t allow his brother to receive help because his role would then become obsolete. Their relationship is essential to the film but at times it is easy to forget that Connie is supposedly motivated by his desire to reunite with his brother. The individual performances and immediate onscreen action steal our attention.

The acting is understated and urgent. This, coupled with shaky and observational camerawork allows a sense of realism to emerge. Robert Pattinson is wonderful as the self-serving yet philosophical Connie. Despite his exhibitions of recklessness, and a lack of sensitivity, he has a self-awareness which enables him to get others on his side. The film is essentially made up of episodes. Each leads from one to the other but easily builds up its own world. Smaller roles undertaken by the likes of Jennifer Jason Leigh and Barkhad Abdi add texture and depth to these smaller worlds within these episodes. We end up following the least likeable character, generally sympathising with whoever he is manipulating and using. As our protagonist, he also plays the role of antagonist.

The pulsing soundtrack is a character in its own right. It floods some scenes, reducing the importance of diegetic dialogue and sounds while prioritising the overwhelming and claustrophobic atmosphere instead.

This unnerving, ambitious film has a simple objective but is not lazy in its pursuit. There is no shortage of obstacles which must be overcome and situations which need to be diffused as the film explores the complexity of social interactions and the relationship between race and justice. Each problem and situation keeps the audience on their toes as their loyalty is jolted between the protagonist and those for whom he becomes the antagonist. Beware the deceptive title.