Robert Pattinson stars in Good Time—but not the Robert Pattinson you know. Not the brooder, the heartthrob who debuted as a teen vampire in the Twilight movies. This seems to be a completely different Robert Pattinson, bursting into a room where he isn’t wanted, whisking his brother away to the score of their lives—jittery, hostile, leaning hard into a Queens accent, his signature face partially obscured by a beard and a mop of stringy black hair that keeps falling across his eyes. He’s completely transformed. You’d be forgiven for not recognizing him. (I didn’t, when I first saw the trailer.)
Pattinson plays Connie Nikas, a lowlife bent on roping his mentally-handicapped brother Nick (Benny Safdie, who with his brother wrote and directed the film) into a bank heist. When the robbery goes awry, it’s Nick who gets caught and locked up in Rikers Island awaiting arraignment. Connie goes to a bail bondsman, but he comes up short. If he wants to get his brother out, he’ll need another ten grand. And so begins the film’s central action: a desperate, kinetic, neon-soaked odyssey through underworld Queens.
It’s difficult to say much more about Good Time without spoiling it. Half the fun is in seeing how Connie’s mad and morally suspect night unfolds, what ridiculous situations his desperation and charismatic ingenuity gets him into and out of. In fact, if any of this sounds appealing, you should probably stop reading and just go watch the movie—for those of you still hanging around, I can tell you that Connie’s schemes involve a hospital jailbreak gone badly awry, an amusement park break-in, hidden treasure, and a Sprite bottle full of acid.
The Safdie brothers capture this urban phantasmagoria in an assaulting visual style befitting the material. Many shots are presented in extreme, claustrophobic close-up, pulling the audience into much closer identification with these characters than we’re comfortable with. The shaky camera, aggressive neon lighting, cacophonous sound mix, and propulsive score contribute to the feeling of scenes balanced on a knife’s edge of chaos. From the opening frames, you get the feeling that something awful could happen at any minute—and very often, it does.
A story of odyssey is defined in part by its secondary characters, the figures our hero (antihero, in this case) meets along the way to his destination. And in Good Time, the costars really pop, combining excellent performances and a strong script to present a cast of characters who emerge as real and idiosyncratic human beings, even with limited screentime. Jennifer Jason Leigh plays Connie’s girlfriend, almost as much of a loser as he is. Barkhad Abdi is a security guard who nearly ends Connie’s night early. There’s also the old woman and her teenage granddaughter who surely know that Connie’s lying to them, that he’s no good, but help him anyway. And Benny Duress nearly steals the show as a recent parolee bent on the opposite of rehabilitation.
But it’s still Pattinson who anchors the movie, bringing the swirling chaos into focus and giving it some semblance of meaning and significance. His performance is a revelation. Connie is, to put it mildly, a bad person, bringing chaos in his wake and disaster to every person he meets in the course of the night, beginning with his brother. But he is also, in the midst of his desperation and willingness to do things that would make most people recoil in horror, undeniably charismatic. There’s a reason people keep helping Connie against their better judgment, and Pattinson’s trick in Good Time is to wrest his audience into a similarly complicated response of simultaneous attraction and repulsion. When Connie says that he suspects this night will somehow reveal his life’s true purpose, you almost believe him; when he protests that he’s not a loser, it’s laughable but poignant too.
The film’s breathless pace and amoral presentation of criminals had me thinking of the films of Martin Scorsese, particularly Mean Streets and Goodfellas. (Scorsese is thanked in the credits.) Other reviewers have mentioned Dog Day Afternoon, which I suppose would make Pattinson’s performanceakin to Pacino’s. That’s a big claim, and I’ve no idea if it will hold up over time, but at the moment it feels right. Good Time is a head rush of a crime film, with a performance for the ages.-Andrew DeYoung