In 2019, Uncut Gems took the world by storm. Adam Sandler’s performance as a risk taking jeweler had many tuning in to see how it would pan out. After the film became available on Netflix, it became a streaming success. This Safdie brothers production certainly deserves the attention it has received, but there’s another Netflix thriller that tops it.
Released in 2017, Good Time precedes Uncut Gems. Both were directed by Benny and Josh Safdie and made by renowned studio A24. A24 is home to a number of horrifyingly sinister and thrilling films that are hard for anyone to turn their attention away from. Good Time and Uncut Gems are no different. With the immense stakes involved in both films along with the performances by the cast, it’s impossible to look away from either crime thriller.
Prior to the creation and making of Good Time, Robert Pattinson contacted the Safdie brothers and expressed interest in working with them. Josh Safdie began working on the script to Good Time, writing the lead explicitly for Pattinson. While Good Time may not have gotten the same attention as Uncut Gems two years later, part of the reason Sandler agreed to take the role of Howard Ratner is because of Good Time.
Good Time and Uncut Gems share a number of commonalities but Good Time manages to trump Uncut Gems in a few key ways. Because of their commonalities, they are much easier to evaluate on a similar scale. At face value, both Safdie films star a notable Hollywood face in a role that is unlike their typical castings. Aside from starring director Benny Safdie, Good Time puts Pattinson in the lead role of bad boy Constantine “Connie” Nikas. Pattinson will next appear in The Batman as Bruce Wayne.
Pattinson, Safide, and Sandler give incredible performances in their respective films. While Pattinson has taken a range of roles over his career to avoid being typecast after Twilight, Adam Sandler is most often associated with his comedic work. The initial shock of Sandler’s performance is similar to the reception of Jim Carey in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Despite also being known for his comedic roles, his performance was nothing short of spectacular.
The opening sequence of Good Time is much like that of Uncut Gems. It serves as the calm before the storm. Instead of a mining discovery or a colonoscopy before Howard roams the busy New York streets, Good Time begins with Nick (Safdie) talking to a psychiatrist. He attempts to get Nick to better understand his relationship with his brother, Connie. The intricacies of their relationship are what set up the core of Good Time right off the bat. It seems that the psychiatrist is trying to save Nick by getting Connie into trouble, which inevitably leads to Connie busting into the middle of the session. It becomes clear that Nick is being pitted between a rock and a hard place.
At first, it’s hard to tell which one has Nick’s best interest at heart. The start of Good Time suggests that at the center of the Nikas brothers’ complex relationship is a heartwarming bond. Connie seems to have convinced himself that everything he does is in Nick’s best interest. Nick seems to believe Connie’s apparent wish to protect him, thus agreeing to do as he asks. Both appear blind to the true harmful nature of their relationship, that is, until they can’t avoid it any longer.
After their bank robbery doesn’t go according to plan, Connie and Nick find themselves on the run. Of course, this also doesn’t go according to plan and Nick is captured by the police. Burdened with guilt and their familial ties, Connie is determined to free him. He’s met with insane odds to do so, but never falters in his attempts.
The stakes of Good Time are certainly not as high as Howard’s immense bet in Uncut Gems. Despite that, Good Time is far from dull. Connie’s wild attempt to free his brother and somehow get off scot-free seems unrealistic. In spite of knowing how ridiculous the notion is, it’s hard to root against it. Because these stakes aren’t as high as Howard’s insane and risky bets in Uncut Gems, what’s on the line for the Nikas brothers feels real.
Like Uncut Gems, there’s a complexity to the title of Good Time. Good Time strategically refers to prison, which is a huge point of the film. While serving their sentences, prisoners can get out early for good behavior. For them, this is called their “good time.” In the film, Connie is said to have recently gotten out of prison early for good behavior. Connie then chooses to spend his freedom continuing to commit crimes, including the bank robbery that eventually lands him back in prison.
Arguably, the situations both Howard and Connie find themselves in are self-dug. Each of them makes questionable decisions that come from a place of greed. Howard’s bets are to help him get out of a financial and moral hole that he’s put himself in. Unable to keep his word, Howard faces grave danger. Some of Connie’s actions can also be boiled down to greed. Where he differs from Howard is that Connie’s hazardous crime comes from his wish to get away from the downtrodden life he and his brother have been victims to all their lives. While he certainly doesn’t go about achieving it in the right way and does not entirely do right by his brother, Connie is in some ways, a character worth attempting to understand (and root for).
Many audience members found Uncut Gems‘ high pace to be incredibly hard to watch because of how stressful it is. The Safdie brothers do an amazing job at making Howard’s problems feel like the audience is experiencing them right alongside him. The immersive nature of the Safdie films is what makes them such striking thrillers. It’s one thing to be interested in the story but to feel like an active participant in the film is another.
Good Time is not as overwhelming as Uncut Gems, but it does bring viewers into the fold. It pulls viewers into Connie’s story whether they want to actively support his decisions or not. Everyone recognizes that Nick is an innocent party that doesn’t deserve to be in prison. As result, there’s no choice but hoping that Connie’s scheme works out. In a way, viewers are much like Nick, becoming trapped between two unfortunate potential outcomes.
Good Time‘s ending is also incredibly impactful. Because of Howard’s high stakes, the ending of Uncut Gems had nearly everyone feeling shocked and somewhat unsatisfied. That doesn’t happen in Good Time. Regardless of how anyone viewed Connie or his motives, Nick is the one everyone is rooting for. At the end, there is a very powerful sequence that shows Nick processing his life for himself and making decisions. He’s no longer being recruited into things that would put him in danger. In other words, Nick is reclaiming his life and understanding what has happened to him over the years. While it’s not necessarily a neat ending wrapped in a bow, it’s enough to leave viewers feeling fulfilled.
Good Time and Uncut Gems are now streaming on Netflix.
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