An un­nerv­ing crime thriller for our times

Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition - Showtime - Palm Beach - - FRONT PAGE - By Michael Phillips Chicago Tri­bune

The most le­git­i­mately di­vi­sive movie of the mo­ment, right along­side (and more ur­gent than) “Detroit,” the un­nerv­ing crime thriller “Good Time” moves like a streak, barely able to keep up with its char­ac­ters.

The reck­less, self­ish, charis­matic man at its core, Con­stan­tine “Con­nie” Nikas, is a small-time Queens, N.Y., hustler of Greek-Amer­i­can ex­trac­tion. He’s played by Robert Pat­tin­son (“Twi­light”).

The cru­elty in­her­ent in the sto­ries of Josh and Benny Safdie, writ­ers and di­rec­tors and broth­ers, takes on a propul­sive new di­men­sion in “Good Time.”

Pat­tin­son, as many have noted, is nearly un­rec­og­niz­able here as Con­nie, a twitch in per­pet­ual mo­tion, a fast talker and a user of ev­ery­one around him. There are times when you catch him act­ing. But it’s a real per­for­mance, and Pat­tin­son isn’t show­boat­ing here. The char­ac­ter of Con­nie is a fab­u­list and a weasel, and Pat­tin­son’s char­ac­ter­i­za­tion makes each sweaty chap­ter of this crime story fas­ci­nat­ing.

It’s not sim­ply Con­nie’s story. The open­ing scene be­longs to the other brother, Nick (played with per­fect pitch and emo­tional naked­ness by Benny Safdie). In tight, in­tim­i­dat­ing close-ups, we see Nick in a drab of­fice with a court-ap­pointed psy­chi­a­trist (Peter Verby).

Con­nie bursts into the room, in­ter­rupts the ses­sion and busts his brother out so that they can em­bark on the ad­ven­ture of their lives, for bet­ter or worse. There’s a bank rob­bery on the agenda. Con­nie con­vinces Nick he can do it; he tells him he has the stuff it takes to MPAA rat­ing: R (for lan­guage through­out, vi­o­lence, drug use and sex­ual con­tent) Run­ning time: 1:40 Opens: Fri­day com­mit a crime.

Wear­ing racially provoca­tive dark-skinned masks (“Stop mess­ing with it!” Con­nie tells Nick), the Nikas boys dash with the money, but right away the good times promised by the ti­tle prove slip­pery. In short order the rob­bery goes flooey, and Nick winds up in the hos­pi­tal af­ter a bru­tal beat­ing he suf­fers on Rik­ers Is­land. Where the Safdies take the story from there be­comes a dizzy­ing and dizzy­ingly plau­si­ble odyssey of im­pro­vi­sa­tion, a sur­vival game of per­pet­u­ally shift­ing rules.

Two key sup­port­ing char­ac­ters, two among many to suf­fer at Con­nie’s hands, are black. Sev­eral crit­ics have lev­eled charges of racism at “Good Time” and at the Safdies. For rea­sons I won’t re­veal, Con­nie at one point knocks on the door of a ran­dom house, and within min­utes a 16-year-old girl (Taliah Web­ster, who will break your heart) be­comes his con­fi­dante and an ac­com- plice of sorts.

The ac­tion rolls on to Long Is­land and the Ad­ven­ture­land amuse­ment park, where a night se­cu­rity guard (Barkhad Abdi of “Cap­tain Phillips”) runs afoul of Con­nie in a par­tic­u­larly painful way. Though he loves his brother and feels more for him than he knows what to do with, Pat­tin­son’s char­ac­ter ex­ploits and dis­cards ev­ery­one in his blink­ered life, in­clud­ing his girl­friend (Jen­nifer Ja­son Leigh), ei­ther for money, shel­ter or plain self-in­ter­est. The po­lice keep giv­ing him a break be­cause even in his par­tic­u­lar so­cioe­co­nomic strata, he en­joys a full load of white priv­i­lege.

The racial un­der­cur­rents in “Good Time” are harsh and not en­tirely re­solved, but I think it’s part of a le­git­i­mate and se­ri­ously af­fect­ing pic­ture of where we are in Amer­ica to­day.

Most crime movies, even al­leged indies, make it easy for the au­di­ence to take sides and es­tab­lish clear root­ing in­ter­ests. “Good Time” is bet­ter than that. It’s not al­ways easy to take, yet you can’t look away. Michael Phillips is a Tri­bune critic.


Robert Pat­tin­son stars as a small-time crook in Queens.

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