‘Good Time’ Smashes Through the American Dream
A look at Josh and Benny Safdie's neon and propulsive new film
Writers and directors Josh and Benny Safdie begin their new incendiary film Good Time with a dash and a jump. The dash is away from a bank, which Constantine (played by Robert Pattinson) and his neurologically disabled brother Nick (Benny Safdie) have just robbed. The jump is through a glass window and into the troubled heart of the American Dream. When Nick is caught by the police, beaten by other inmates and then brought to a hospital, Constantine resolves to get his brother out and attempt to finish what they started.
What Constantine and Nick dream of, more than anything, is to be away from it all, living in a cabin in the forest with little else but their own company. Even if it costs the other’s mental or spiritual health, what they want is complete freedom, to redefine society’s notions of what freedom even means. That dream meets an abrupt end when the bank robbery that opens the film goes wrong.
Sure, Constantine gets away with some of the money, but it’s coated in pink dye. When the cash is too tainted for a bail bondsman, Constantine realizes he needs more if he’s going to get his brother free. The screen glows from the neon palette, a hypnotic temptation like a mosquito trap.
Good Time is a film set at a breakneck speed, with Constantine’s attempt to free his brother from the hospital driving the film. His methodology begs the question, what will some people do for the promise of the American Dream? Both Constantine and Nick are children of Greek immigrants, living in Queens with their grandmother, who may or may not have been abusive. Their poverty is juxtaposed against the realities of those from other backgrounds: the apartment of a black family who use the white static of the television as a guiding light; the pad of a drug dealer, decked out with an enormous television and expensive bottles of alcohol; and the home of Corey (Jennifer Jason Leigh), Constantine’s on-again, off-again girlfriend who seems to maintain a middle class lifestyle with her child and mother. The spectrum of what can be achieved or wrenched away from you is on display in Good Time like a panorama. At different points, Constantine takes advantage of each of these people. It’s all an attempt to get them out of the way.
To what degree Constantine’s actions are actually for the love of his brother is a question that persists across the film. He proves himself to be such a cunning manipulator, thrillingly able to make lovers and strangers believe any little lie he tells them—that he’s a good person, or that he cares about them, or that his life has been changed by their meeting.
While Constantine is willing to do terrible things to get his brother out, even worse, he’s willing to do terrible things to get money. A Sprite bottle filled with LSD becomes something to chase after and in need of a buyer. The film becomes Constantine’s race against the clock to get the wealth and total autonomy that he’s been denied. He abstracts the idea of “hard work.” At a certain point, Constantine’s games reveal that the American Dream isn’t so much a myth as a game where the players aren’t even on the same field.
Good Time is nothing if not an excoriating testament to the things people will do to capture what they thought was promised to them, no matter what parameters they have to transgress.