Though it takes place in the assumed sanctuary of a psychiatrist’s office, the opening of Good Time wastes no time setting the tone for the movie. Nick Nickas (co-director Benny Safdie) furrows his brow, struggling to answer simple word associations. He shifts awkwardly in his seat, openly questioning what his doctor is asking, and why he’s taking notes on his answers. Offset with awkward silence, and closeups so tight you feel instantly uncomfortable, Nick grows increasingly irate, until his brother, Connie (Robert Pattinson) bursts in, berating the doctor, and telling him he should feel ashamed while he escorts Nick from the office.
There’s an inescapable tension that resonates throughout the scene. The mentally challenged Nick doesn’t like being asked questions, and he likes notes being taken about him even less. Connie doesn’t like being separated from him, which prompts a protective instinct towards his brother that takes over like muscle memory.
With no time to assess what just happened, we’re immediately thrown into the film’s story. Connie, a small-time grifter, has aspirations of owning land, believing it’ll free him and his brother from the tiring grind of their day-to-day life. His only recourse to achieve this goal is through theft, and with his brother at his side, the two don face masks and construction vests, quietly enter the lobby of a bank, and pass a note to the teller demanding the money.
Though they leave the bank with a bag full of cash, things start to go wrong, and Connie and Nick find themselves on the run through the streets of New York. It doesn’t take long before Nick is caught and arrested, and while Connie manages to escape, he protective instinct again takes over, and he becomes single-minded in his attempt to get the bail money for Nick.
From there, Connie uses his frenetic smooth talk to assess the options he has available, willing to stop at nothing until he’s reunited with his brother. The less that’s said about what unfolds the better, as the film takes the viewer on a panicked, unpredictable journey through the streets of New York — never once easing up on its paranoid, claustrophobic sensibility.
While Connie is singular in his mission, co-director Josh Safdie (who wrote the script with Ronald Bronstein), and his brother Benny, craft a masterful vision of life through the gritty streets of life on the lowest rungs of the city. The tension is complimented by powerful performances from a mix of first-time actors and seasoned professionals, all anchored by Pattinson’s top-notch delivery. What results is a desperate, unflinching, note-perfect tale of brotherly devotion.
Good Time is now playing in theaters everywhere. Check out our interview with the Safdie brothers here.