Life is short. There are only so many movies you can fit into your schedule before your synapses stop firing. So I tend to have little patience for movies that make me feel as miserable as Good Time. Each successive scene presents a new object of distress, every development a new anxiety. Nothing good happens to anyone in Good Time.
The film is a harder watch the second time around, when you anticipate every forthcoming disaster. It’s a film you watch with eyes wide open the first time, and rewatch through your fingers. I’m not typically a squeamish viewer, but there are plenty of “oh god please don’t do that” moments here. Chief among them, of course, is Connie coming close to statutory rape in order to distract a teenage girl from his face appearing on the news. There’s a disconnect key to Good Time: Connie is plainly despicable, but you still cringe when he fails.
How do the Safdie brothers accomplish this? His motivations, of course, are ostensibly pure. He roped his (probably) autistic brother into a robbery scheme that got him arrested, and now he needs bail money to get him out. Your sympathy for Nicky is Connie’s sympathy. What Connie does to get that money, the people he hurts and takes advantage of, it all becomes if not forgivable, at least understandable. What makes Good Time a great movie is that it knows that that shouldn’t be the case. The casting of former teen dreamboat Robert Pattinson is key here. When he gets that teen girl arrested because, again, he roped her into his scheming, you see the look of pity and regret flash across his face. But of what good is that pity? He can feel bad all he likes, but it doesn’t mean he’s going to change. Good Time puts the lie to the idea that the ends justify the means. Connie’s cause is sympathetic, yes. But can that really excuse his actions?
The Safdies also put you in Connie’s headspace with their chaotic direction and sound design. Everything around him is always just too much for anyone to handle — the hell that is other people. Everyone is aggressive and loud, they all talk over each other; the cuts are awkward and lopsided and unnatural. The fact that he often keeps his cool is admirable, and when he doesn’t, it’s understandable. The fact that he’s so completely loathsome fades into the background. It’s hard to hate a guy who’s so put-upon.
But, again, the film is well aware of what it’s doing. It wants you to question why you allow yourself to feel for him. It doesn’t do this in an obvious, didactic way, either. This isn’t a film that shames you for having an emotional connection that it deliberately created. (This isn’t every video game from the last 15 years.) It is, to use a cruder term, just asking questions.
It also provides a pretty explicit answer. At the film’s end, Connie is arrested, and he takes the rap for Nicky off-screen. Nicky’s therapist remarks on what a “responsible” decision this was. He says Connie is “right where he belongs” in prison, and that so is Nicky, in a therapeutic support group with other autistic adults. I don’t think the film means us to take the therapist’s word as thematic gospel, but it does raise the idea that Connie accomplished nothing that wouldn’t have occurred if he hadn’t turned himself in immediately. The teenage girl and carnival security guard wouldn’t have been arrested. The man he stole from police custody at the hospital would still be alive. Connie’s rampage was disastrous for everyone he came into contact with. And at the end of the day, he was only attempting to help his brother in a way that would allow him to elide responsibility.
Good Time blows up the flattened notions of “good” and “likable” and “relatable” that film criticism likes to box characters into. Connie is none of the above, but he’s something far more important: Watchable. You don’t have to like him. But you can’t look away.