Good Time has a riveting, breathless and unforgettable opening scene. It's a conversation between two people, sitting across from each other in a cramped office. Peter (Peter Verby) is a therapist, who is going through a routine series of innocuous questions. Nick (Benny Safdie) is Peter's patient, a quiet and blunt person who, obviously, suffers from a mental disorder. The more questions Peter asks, the more disturbed Nick gets. We're watching a kettle on a slowly heating stove top, waiting for its whistle to squeal. And co-directors Josh and Benny Safdie frame the action in extreme close ups, which heightens the tension and pushes us directly into the verbal confrontation. You're practically begging the storytellers to take a time out so we can physically step back, catch our breath, and get a better grip on these new surroundings.
I lay all of this out in such detail because the uncomfortable tension and unease that's manufactured in the opening scene of Good Time is, miraculously, maintained for the rest of the enthralling film. Good Time is a high-wire drama that slinks through some lowly neighborhoods around New York City, with a morally bankrupt tour guide named Connie (played by Twilight star Robert Pattinson, who is remarkable in this role). The film's a gradual descent by some seedy characters into truly deplorable situations. But it sinks its grimy fingers into us as it slides, and it drags us along for the gritty, dirty ride. You won't feel great after Good Time -- making it a difficult movie to wholeheartedly recommend -- but it's impossible to overlook the film's chilling effect.
Connie (Pattinson) and Nick (Safdie) are brothers. Connie needs Nick to help him pull off a simple bank heist, which they accomplish. But almost immediately, things start to go wrong. I want to preserve the "how" and the "why" regarding the wheels coming off of Connie's plan, but I can tell you this much: Nick ends up jailed, forcing Connie to scramble to figure out a way to get his mentally incapacitated sibling out of the slammer.
Connie's off-the-cuff change of plans involves a number of not-so-innocent players that drift in and out of his life over the course of a very long evening. Jennifer Jason Leigh appears as Connie's girlfriend, an imbalanced loser who has serious issues with her overprotective mother. Young Taliah Webster is a teenage girl caught up in Connie's expanding web of lies as the criminal tries to avoid a cop-driven manhunt following the bank robbery. You'll spot Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips) as an amusement park security guard who inevitably regrets crossing Connie's path.
Robert Pattinson serves as the eye of the storm of chaos that is Good Time, and you never want to look away from him as the tension of the film methodically escalates. Stripped of his native English accent and his easy good looks, Pattinson is aggressive and sleazy, stopping at nothing to protect his own ass and rescue his brother. Even when the plot machinations aren't feasible -- there's a lengthy scene set in a hospital that threatens to burst the film's bubble of believability -- Josh and Benny Safdie still do such an effective job of wringing suspense out of their situations that you can't help but push back in your seat and hold your breath until Connie and his crew have figured a way out of a jam.
You know what Good Time reminds me of? Darren Aronofsky's calling card to mainstream audiences back in 2000. Do you remember how uncomfortable you felt as the flawed characters of that drug-addled soap opera made bad decision after bad decision, but it was so stylish and familiar and expertly drawn that the mistakes pulled you deeper into the fold?
That's what Good Time offers. You'll marvel at the neon color scheme that the Safdie siblings bring to organically dingy parts of Queens and Long Island. You'll groove on the brilliant original electronica score, credited to Oneohtrix Point Never's Daniel Lopatin, easily one of the best scores I've heard this year. But in general, if the opening scene grabs you the way that it did me, you'll plug into this gross cesspool of crime, drugs, manipulation and horrible decisions, and you'll roller-coaster ride it to its bitter end. This one is a home run.