As urgent and gaudy as the lights flashing on the many cop cars that pass through this poetically pulpy crime-thriller, Good Time sees Robert Pattinson give a career-best performance as a criminal negotiating a night of escalating violence and mayhem after a botched heist.
Anyone familiar with Josh and Benny Safdie’s grimy New York movies Heaven Knows What and Daddy Longlegs will know they favour scuzzball characters caught in dire circumstances. Good Time is not about to buck the trend, opening with Constantine Nikas (Pattinson) and his mentally handicapped brother Nick (Benny Safdie) securing a decent score only for their triumph to explode in their faces.
Covered head-to-toe in dye from an anti-theft pack, they ricochet between hospital, prison, the house of Connie’s ex-squeeze Corey (Jennifer Jason Leigh), the houses of strangers and a gloriously garish theme park, all the while pursued by cops. And along the way they pick up drug dealer Ray (Buddy Duress) and African-American teenager Crystal (Taliah Webster), fresh energy sources that zap events in new directions.
With its squalid locations and tight focus on desperate characters (literally – Sean Price Williams’ shoots startlingly close, as befits Connie’s in-the-moment decision-making devoid of a bigger picture), Good Time flicks a sweaty salute to ‘70s crime movies such as Dog Day Afternoon and Taxi Driver. But there’s also something of Scorsese’s screwy ‘80s classic After Hours to this downward-spiralling odyssey, adorned as it is with surreal sequences and Oneohtrix Point Never’s electro score, by turns ambient and (im)pure noisemongering.
The performances are as vivid as the colour-scheme (entire scenes are drenched in eye-stinging primary colours), though in Safdie’s case, he also manages to capture Nick’s fear and fragility in a well-judged turn that could so easily have offended. Pattinson, for his considerable part, is all shocked hair, blazing eyes and forward momentum. So often still and brooding in previous roles, it’s like watching a flock of birds explode off a lake.
Like Wind River, another US thriller that played in Cannes this year, Good Time moves through landscapes of social deprivation, its propulsive action nonetheless offering pause for thought. This is Trump’s America, broken, the protagonists trying to scrabble across the yawning divide by helping themselves to a bagful of cash. What makes the Safdie brothers so exciting is that they too want to help themselves, stuffing their film full of suspense, comedy and politics then zipping it together with slick genre style. It's time for Hollywood to give them a wad of cash, but only if it's unmarked so they're free to run with it in whichever direction they choose.