Good Time (Benny and Josh Safdie, 2017)

Two brothers are separated when their bank robbery goes wrong; one lands in jail as the other navigates the manic situations he finds himself in as he tries to get his brother back, all whilst avoiding the police who are actively searching for him. Connie Nikas (Robert Pattinson) is the protective sibling of his mentally-handicapped brother Nick (Benny Safdie), but Connie feels unable to protect Nick when he’s caught by the police. Connie has to find a way to pay his brother’s extortionate bail amount, and then attempt to steal Nick back from the hospital where he is recovering from his inmate-induced injuries whilst under the watchful eye of a policeman. This leads to an even more anxiety-inducing escape plan when Connie has to partner up with ex-criminal Ray (Buddy Dupress).

Connie’s character matches the tone of this film: always moving; always in motion; fuelled by a claustrophobic mania that propels him through these almost dream-like situations. The cinematography is the visual projection of Connie’s internal state, meaning our own panic as an audience is created to coexist with Connie’s as he tries to get his brother back. His brother, in comparison, is slower. He takes longer to process the world around him, and Connie’s impatience at Nick’s gentler understanding of things makes their criminal goals harder to achieve. The bank robbery is accompanied by Connie’s constant praise of Nick for doing well at the tasks that Connie himself finds easiest; he’s clearly the leader of the two, but the love he feels for his brother is obvious, albeit misplaced. He manipulates Nick, just as we see him do to the other characters throughout Good Time, but it is shrouded by a cloud of ‘affection’ and ‘brotherly-love’.

Whilst Connie’s experiences to get his brother back seem absurd and even downright implausible in some instances, the style of shooting those scenes makes them entirely believable. The whole mood and atmosphere of Good Time is as if the audience is granted permission into Connie’s lifestyle. Connie’s covert mission across New York is as realistic as possible. The Bail Bondsman he visits is the real deal; he and his wife allowed the crew to film in their store and use their reality as fiction. The passerbys are real; the mall security that chase Connie and Nick are the real security of the mall they filmed in; Buddy Dupress has even been in jail, like his character, and the story he retells is one of his own experiences. Subtle filming techniques were used to make sure passerbys didn’t know they were a cast and crew shooting the well-known Robert Pattinson, whose constant agitated expressions and unkempt bleached hair makes him almost unrecognisable. The film feels exactly how they intended – like a secret operation that is happening right under our nose. One of the directors even performs alongside Pattinson, and is even credited to helping with the editing. This keeps the film feeling even more like a small delegation.

During the beginning of Good Time, I believed it to be a story of ‘brotherly love’, but throughout the film I began to realise a different narrative. I ended the film with the conclusion that it was all just a story about Connie, and how he manipulates the people in his life – but one of these manipulations is what gave me that realisation halfway through the film.

When Nick and Connie rob the bank, they’re (obviously) wearing a disguise. These disguises consist of realistic face masks with the appearance of a black man. This choice was noticeable seeing as the two characters are caucasian, but if anything that made it a better disguise. Later, when Connie has left the hospital,  he takes advantage of a kind older lady – also black – who was on the hospital bus with him. She allows him into her home, falling for his lies, where her sixteen year-old granddaughter Crystal is Connie’s next target. Together, they watch a documentary-style TV show – a white policeman unfairly hurts a black lady, and both Connie and Crystal react in favour of the lady. When a ‘Wanted’ report suddenly appears on the screen showing a photo of Connie, he kisses Crystal to distract her. The age difference is already morally questionable, but only later did I realise the extent of Connie’s (coincidental?) racial exploitation.

When Connie and Ray end up in a dark Adventureland theme park in the middle of the night, Crystal waits patiently in the car for them. The black security guard is knocked out by Connie and fed drug-laced water by Ray so they can fool the police that the guard called. Connie, newly dressed in the guard’s uniform, shows the police where the hysterical hallucinating man now lays on the ground. They don’t hesitate in believing Connie, and arrest the man. Despite the ‘friendship’ Connie had been building with Crystal, he even lets the police take her away when they find her in the vicinity. This had been cleverly foreshadowed by the programme they had previously watched together; Connie – the white man – puts on the security guard outfit – the authority – and hurts the innocent black people around him.

The racial exploitation is subtly weaved throughout Good Time in a clever way. It’s not necessarily about prejudice against a race; it’s about how easy it is for a white guy, despite being a wanted criminal with crooked morals, can take advantage of innocent black civilians. These characters happen to get in Connie’s way of getting his brother back, and due to the already existing systemic racism in America, he can throw them aside with ease to get what he wants. It’s subtle, and an interesting addition to what was otherwise just another tale of two criminal brothers. Connie’s exploitative nature is recognisable in his treatment of anybody at a disadvantage to him – his mentally-handicapped brother; his ‘girlfriend’ who’s living in a difficult situation with her mother; and the POC civilians that live in the same city as him.

This achieves an interesting mix of emotions when Connie is arrested at the end. On the one hand, Nick is taken to the facility he needs to help him, and he seems to become comfortable there as he recognises that his brother took advantage of him. On the other hand, Connie’s actions whilst wrongly achieved were not entirely wrong by origin; they were carved by the agency of the love he had for his brother.

Good Time is not just an enjoyable film with great performances – it’s also a truthful comment of society.


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