Good Time has the keen eye for anthropology you find in a lot of Sundance movies—the casting feels both unconventional and authentic, and there’s an interest in subcultures that you don’t normally see on screen—but the beauty is that it packs this sensibility into a taut genre thriller.
Robert Pattinson, previously of the Twilight series and clearly thrilled to be in a role that doesn’t require him to brood, smolder, or sparkle, plays Connie Nikas, a twitchy grifter who cadges money from his obnoxious, possibly mentally challenged girlfriend (Jennifer Jason Leigh), and gets his definitely mentally challenged brother, Nick (Benny Safdie, who also co-directed the film with his brother), caught up in a lamebrained heist. The crime goes bad and Nick gets pinched—sending Connie on a night-long odyssey through the wilds of Queens to try to make the money for Nick’s bail.
It’s the perfect plot for this dead-end crime thriller, in which Connie tries to solve a big self-created problem and ends up creating more and more problems for himself—a sort of knucklehead fractal. The “tragic brother crime story” is well-worn at this point (as is the “mentally impaired brother story”), but just when you think that’s where Good Time is going, it zags, introducing Buddy Duress and a shaggy subplot about an abandoned amusement park and a lost Sprite bottle full of LSD.
Duress—who was literally a fugitive during the filming of the Safdie brothers’ previous film, Heaven Knows What, and whose own prison letters partly inspired Good Time—ends up stealing the whole movie, adding much-needed comic relief to a film that’d otherwise feel claustrophobic. But even without Duress, Good Time does what it means to do: It traps us with a protagonist who’s basically a piece of shit in every way, and, as a result, has nothing to lose. That somehow feels thrilling, terrifying, and, maybe most importantly, liberating.