BFI LFF: Good Time (2017)

A manic night of nonstop motion gone wrong ensues as a small-time bank robber tries to free his brother in the Safdie brothers’ ironically titled thriller Good Time.

Oh, Brother

by Alexa Dalby

Good Time

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

The centre of the Safdie brothers’ (Heaven Knows What) film about the relationship between two brothers is a manic, chaotic chase around New York’s nighttime underbelly. Ben Safdie is Nick, the hearing-impaired brother with learning difficulties, and we see him first with his therapist in some kind of rehabilitation programme. His protective older brother Connie (great performance by Robert Pattinson) is a small-time criminal, who misguidedly takes Ben with him on a bank heist. The brothers live with their grandmother, an elderly Greek immigrant.

But when mentally challenged Ben ends up with real tough guys on Riker Island, Connie urgently has to find thousands of dollars for a bail bond to get him out. The stolen money isn’t enough – he tries to hustle a credit card payment by using an indifferent girlfriend (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Beaten up in jail, Ben is hospitalised, Connie is told, but he’s resourceful, so he plans to spring his bandaged brother from his guarded hospital room. What ensues is a night of bad decisions gone wrong, as Connie accidentally hooks up with newly paroled Ray (Buddy Duress), high on drink and drugs, chasing a valuable bottle of LSD together with 16-year-old Crystal, a bored African-American teen, for whom the chaos surrounding Connie is a diversion from staying in her room, living with her Haitian grandmother.

The camera is in constant motion, frantically capturing the twists and turns of Connie’s desperate race against time and taking us to everyday locations turned into grotesque nightmares. A deserted amusement park is eerily lit up in the early hours as its security guard (Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips) tries to capture desperate intruders amid the horror exhibits. The music score by experimental musician Oneohtrix Point Never is pounding, energising and atmospheric. It’s a nonstop, adrenalin-fuelled night of bad decisions getting worse, its urgency nodding to Dog Day Afternoon or After Hours. But it’s also implicit in incidental social and psychological comment.

Good Time premiered in the Official Selection at the 70th Cannes Film Festival and screens at the 61st BFI London Fim Festival on 6 and 8 October 2017.

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