The Safdie Brothers’ extremely underrated New York crime classic should get it’s due. And not just because of that guy from ‘Twilight’.
Let me set the stage for you.
It’s early 2017. Robert Pattinson is still widely known as “that pale but handsome vampire from Twilight” but has been quietly building a solid acting resumé beyond that franchise acting in films from directors like David Cronenberg, Werner Herzog, and James Gray.
The Safdie Brothers are two sibling directors that, like Pattinson, have quietly built a stellar filmography. This time, their creation is found in the dredges of New York City’s guerrilla indie film circuit with low budget films like Daddy Longlegs and Heaven Knows What.
Earlier in 2017, I happened upon a trailer for Good Time. This one…
I had applied for an internship at A24 and had Twitter notifications on to see if they would give any updates. The trailer for the film just happened to be one of the tweets. The electrifying logo for the film and a still of Pattinson running down a New York street in a Marc Ecko hoodie caught my eye so I decided to check it out.
ICYMI: A bank robbery takes place and Robert Pattinson monologing creepily intense The scene has an intense synthwave soundtrack playing over all of it (I’m a sucker for synthwave music in movies, I admit). I was hooked.
I had never seen Pattinson like this before. As the trailer continues, the looks got more melancholy and intense when the original song that Iggy Pop recorded for the movie started playing. We see chase sequences and start to understand the core of the movie:
Connie (Pattinson) has to save his brother.
Save his brother from what exactly? Well, let’s just say Connie is–ah–not a great guy.
His brother Nick is developmentally disabled and Connie uses him to help him rob a bank. It’s all for the better (so he thinks in his twisted little head). He does it so they can live together in Virginia away from their abusive family and the grime and filth of NYC.
Unfortunately, it’s not too long before they’re caught by police. Connie manages to escape, but his brother is caught and sent to Rikers Island. Someone with Nick’s disability, as Connie explains to his “girlfriend” in the trailer (played by Jennifer Jason Leigh), won’t last long in Rikers Island and could quite possibly be killed.
That’s it. That’s the core of the film: Connection and love between brothers. But things obviously aren’t that simple.
See, this is a genuinely New York kafka-esque crime movie. What do I mean by that?
The films that took place in NYC during the ’70s and ’80s reflected the environment they in which they took place. They were grimy, dirty, and violent. Think Scorsese’s films during this time with Taxi Driver, Mean Streets, and After Hours. Think Shaft. Think Midnight Cowboy, The French Connection, or Dog Day Afternoon.
Good Time is more in the vein of those films more than anything else. It’s a piece of stimulating pulp. It’s as if Mann’s Thief had a child with Scorsese’s aforementioned After Hours: a pulse-pounding, crime-filled, nighttime odyssey that makes you feel like you are having an acid trip around New York with a seedy environment and even seedier people.
Think the Old West in the Bronx
Pattinson gives a career-defining performance as a sociopathic criminal who uses his charm and good looks to lie and cheat people to get his way. The Safdie Brothers have stated in many interviews they wanted to portray the classical American criminal, the one that is often deified to a popular audience, like the outlaws in the Old West like Jesse James and Billy the Kid.
A more recent example of the “handsome American criminal” complex would be Ted Bundy, who has always disturbingly had his own fan base and now returned to the spotlight due to recent documentaries and biopics.
Pattinson plays the role with the perfect amount of three-dimensional charm so well, the audience is willing to overlook some of the absolutely despicable things he does to save his brother. Like, extremely messed up things that would make Jesse James shake in his little cowboy boots.
In the end though, the film and Pattinson do a great job making you sympathize with him and even make you shrug it off. It’s almost as if the filmmakers are performing the same kind of phenomenon the previously mentioned admiration for outlaws does to a pop-culture audience. You really want to him to succeed, even though he keeps digging himself further down this hole he is in.
This movie wouldn’t be as phenomenal as it is without an extremely talented supporting cast. As in all “odyssey”-type stories, the hero (in the classical protagonist sense because Connie is not a true hero in any way) encounters characters that either help them reach their goal or stand in their way. In the end, they all add something to the story. The supporting cast is a lot of the plot because they keep the film going. Everyone has a role to play towards the eventual climax.
A Personal Touch
Benny Safdie (one half of the Safdie brothers) plays Nick with enough sensitivity and realism to sell the role to an audience, even though he is not developmentally disabled personally. The brothers were initially auditioning people with disabilities but eventually realized they didn’t feel comfortable asking these actors to go through and do the things that Nick does.
And trust me when I say, it’s a lot.
Jennifer Jason Leigh isn’t on screen for too long (as a lot of characters in this type of Odyssey-like story aren’t as mere players in the protagonist’s story). She grounds her over-the-top character and makes you feel like you’ve known that type of person before.
She serves a purpose, but I wish she had some more screen time. Buddy Duress (the breakout performer here, I’ve seen him in a few other movies and think he’s an up and coming character actor) plays a Joe Pesci-type to Pattinson’s De Niro, almost like an antagonistic sidekick in a way that totally works and you love every minute they’re on screen together.
Oneohtrix Point Never‘s soundtrack is the heartbeat of the film–a synthwave sound with a gritty edge that perfectly complements the movie’s 35mm film stock grit, along with the use of bold neon lighting (i.e., vivid reds, blues and purples that add to the feeling that you’re tripping on LSD).
I don’t want to give too much of the film away if you haven’t seen it yet, which you should do as soon as you close out of this “the-writer-is-in-way-too-deep-and-completely-biased” article. Half of the fun are the surprising twists and turns this adventure takes you on, the other half being how fast of a rollercoaster ride it is. It clocks in at just under 100 minutes, and every minute flies by as if they were seconds.
This is not only a modern NYC classic, but a classic genre defining film in neo-noir. This will be to us what Scorsese’s ’70 films were to the movie fans who grew up during the New Hollywood era. This is an extremely underrated film and a cult classic just waiting to happen, and I’m saying to you right now: jump on the bandwagon before it’s too late.