Good Time

Good Time ★★★★½

4.5/5.0 = Stellar

There are so many reasons why GOOD TIME is my favorite type of film. It's a visceral it-happened-one-night yarn. A thrilling game of cat and mouse. A puzzle solving mystery. All of these things would be enough to make GOOD TIME a great cinematic entry. But the Safdie brothers aren't satisfied that easily. Crafting a pulpy action-thriller is one thing, but finding a way to make it painfully topical is a whole other ballgame.

You see, GOOD TIME is about the sickness that is American society. It's a dissertation on the land of opportunity and all its pitfalls. It takes two individuals, one an acerbic, street smart career criminal, the other his dependent brother, in order to form its core thesis: the institutionalization of the everyday American. GOOD TIME's core philosophy is that two men, regardless of their mental capacity, will never escape the rabbit hole of poverty that has brought them to the dire straits they are in today. Fighters are jailed. Weaklings are hospitalized.

Robert Pattinson's Connie Nikas is a strong-willed, able bodied male. He's also a man who refuses to find his place in the American system. Why is unclear, but it also doesn't matter. He's an opportunist, a man who uses his girlfriend for financial gain. The only thing we know that is genuine about Connie is his love for his brother. Benny Safdie's Nick Nikas is a mentally impaired man who's en route to being shafted by a society that claims it will take care of him. Despite their diametrically opposed characteristics, they share one trait: they want to escape the hub of New York City. This prompts their botched attempt at a bank heist, an experience that sums up two key components of GOOD TIME's sociopolitical allegory.

Connie and Nick embark on their criminal escapade with arguably altruistic intentions. They are unarmed, disinterested in hurting anybody, motivated by hopelessness. They steal 50,000 dollars in an attempt to resettle on a Virginia farm; desperate to start anew with the promise of a brighter tomorrow. But it is through this robbery that the Safdie's highlight their most prescient message; the dog-eat-dog mentality of American culture. Connie and Nick, for all their inherent goodness, rob a bank masked as African American men. It's a slight directorial decision, but one that highlights how willingly Americans will throw each other under the bus for personal gain.

These are theses that GOOD TIME continues to illuminate through brief excerpts of COPS (a show that ironically makes Connie sick to his stomach), Connie's selfish exploitation of an African American teen, and his relentless abuse of an African American security guard - a man who by all accounts represents the law, but is viciously transformed into a perceived criminal for further institutionalization. As Connie grows ever more desperate to save his brother from his fate on Riker's Island, he becomes ever more vicious; a very literal depiction of how cyclical criminality can destroy our psyche.

Connie knows deep down that the best thing to do would be to turn himself in, but he continues living under the false pretense that he and Nick can successfully ride off into the sunset, Clint Eastwoods of the 21st century. It is a fantasy of the American dream that ultimately costs countless people their livelihoods, reputations, relationships, and even lives. Connie, for all the love he has for his brother, becomes entirely immune to the cruelty he is causing; transfixed by the allure of wealth. And, just like that, he finds himself in the back of a police car, having spent an entire night wrecking havoc only to never see his brother in the process.

It is only in the final scene, a heartbreaking bookend to an otherwise riveting adventure, that we begin to feel the weight of the preceding sequences. GOOD TIME masks its viciousness through entertainment, not unlike an episode of COPS. But it's this final moment that transcends it into devastating sociopolitical commentary. Nick, now out of Riker's Island, is being told that Connie is where he was always meant to be. The American system has won, successfully incriminating Connie, and hospitalizing Nick. Though on the surface this reads like the right place for both of these men to be, the Safdie's reveal that there will never be someone who treats Nick like a normal human being.

As absurd as it sounds, Connie trusted Nick with robbing a bank. It's a level of agency Nick will never again be entrusted with. Certainly not inside of the clinic he attends in the film's final scene. As the credits roll, we see Nick partake in a game that completely sterilizes him. A boorish attempt to create the illusion of autonomy. Nick walks when he "defines his own truth", but only on command, slowly but surely becoming one of the million robotized American citizens that do not fit the traditional mold of the workforce. Because in America, if you do not consent to become a tool for production, you are industrially disposed of; either in prison, or in a psychiatric ward.

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