Criterion Prediction #269: Good Time, by Alexander Miller
Title: Good Time
Director(s): Josh and Benny Safdie
Cast: Robert Pattinson, Jennifer Jason-Leigh, Benny Safdie, Buddy Duress, Barkhad Abdi, Taliah Webster, Necro, muMs
Synopsis: When two brothers, Nick (Safdie) and Connie (Pattinson) Nikas, narrowly escape a botched bank robbery, the older, developmentally challenged Nick is picked up by the police. Racing against the clock to raise bail money, Connie is willing to scheme, steal, and do whatever he can to get his brother out of Rikers Island.
Critique: Good Time jumps, lunges, and runs; it’s a movie bursting with energy and style and, to evoke an old adage which, in many ways, reflects the directing style embodied by the Safdie’s, it doesn’t let you see it sweat. There’s popping visual flare and herculean energy behind each scene, and it’s all so casually rendered it makes you wonder how much of this aesthetic prowess is instinct, or thoughtful artistic rendering and rigorous planning? There’s always a modicum of preparation that goes into making any movie, especially one whose action leaps from one crowded borough of New York to another. Don’t be fooled; the neo-realist veneer of street shooting is anything but a casual affair, especially in the Big Apple.
Regardless, the suspense, tension, violence, humor, and utter frustration that emit from the likes of Uncut Gems, Heaven Knows What, and Good Time feel like they’re rattled off with a shrug. The work is there, but, like Connie Nikas, it feels like the Safdie brothers are channeling their own inclinations into their creation, and it’s so seamless. Along with Pattinson’s stellar performance, the narrative velocity yanks us alongside with such momentum we don’t ask questions but nod with uneasy agreement. There’s no question that Josh and Benny Safdie are quick-witted, think on their feet, know their way around, and for better or worse, have (maybe?) danced outside the edges of the law. Furthermore, it wouldn’t surprise me to find out if Josh and Benny have met a few Connie’s in their time. A character that is the perfect concoction of enthralling infuriation; he’s no dummy, and unlike your average criminal, Connie can think ahead. Not far enough to assert himself as “successful,” only dig himself deeper into an abyss of his own making, but is able to leap from one borough to the next with law far enough behind in his wake. Connie is equal parts Antoine Doinel and Robert DeNiro’s Johnny Boy from Mean Streets; he’s a mercurial loose cannon, his own worst enemy, who makes life a veritable hell for anyone who drifts into his orbit and leaves them twenty dollars light every time. But you can’t pull away no matter how hard they make it.
Among this stellar cast, you can’t mention Good Time without talking about Buddy Duress. Duress is the kid that Larry Clarke and David Simon would have dreamed of but is (hopefully) a mainstay of Safdie’s filmography, provided he can keep out of trouble. You know he’s not a professional actor by any means. He doesn’t need to study the Stanislavski technique or take cues from the method school; he’s radiant with jocular charisma and enough underlying heart to hint at an untapped vein of immense talent, or at least someone who’s fun to watch.
Why It Belongs in the Collection: It’s no surprise that the Criterion Collection is savvy enough to know that the Safdie Brothers are strong enough contenders to earn a place among the venerated ranks of their catalog. What is surprising is that they dove right into their most recent successful feature, Uncut Gems. This column has hinted at the Safdie’s earlier work (#172 Daddy Longlegs) or maybe a collection of their earlier shorts and documentaries. But the inclusion of Uncut Gems is welcome news as long as it means there’s more room for the budding and exciting work of the New York-based filmmakers. Since Uncut Gems and Good Time issue from the renowned A24 entertainment company, it stands to reason that Criterion can not only acquire the work of Josh and Benny Safdie but other movies under the A24 banner. After all, there’s speculation of In Fabric getting a spine number.