‘Good Time’ Review: Robert Pattinson Is Magnetic in the Safdies’ Exhilarating Crime Thriller
Despite what the title may suggest, the Safdie brothers’ Good Time isn’t exactly a good time. A race-against-the-clock crime drama that charts one night going from bad to worse, the film is more like 100 minutes of sheer chaos and adrenaline shot directly into your eyeballs. That’s far from a knock, though. Good Time is a uniquely exhilarating experience with a sharp, unflinching style and a magnetic performance from Robert Pattinson.
The first 20 minutes of Good Time are a good litmus test for how an audience will respond to this movie. Scored to Oneohtrix Point Never’s unrelenting electronic score, the opening jumps from a botched bank robbery to a police chase to not one but two prison fights, all without taking a single moment of rest. Only then do the credits begin to roll, reminding you that this is just the beginning of the neon-lit nightmare that follows. I noticed myself unclenching my fists and taking a deep breath once it ended. That type of unshakable, in-your-face intensity, even more startling than the Safdies’ suicide attempt opening in Heaven Knows What, may not be for everyone, but it sets the tone for the rest of the film. Watching it is like following Pattinson through a triathlon, only the athletics are replaced by a series of criminal schemes that turn more twisted, and by the end you’re just as exhausted and distraught as those on camera.
When Nick Nikas, a mentally challenged man with a hearing disability played by co-director Benny Safdie, gets arrested following a bank robbery, his brother Connie (Pattinson) does whatever he can to scrounge up cash for bail. He calls up his girlfriend Corey (an alarmingly raucous Jennifer Jason Leigh) for help, but when that plan goes south he goes right to the next one, sneaking into a hospital, then a theme park, then swindling his way into a Queens grandmother’s home. Good Time follows Connie through a harrowing odyssey of one poor decision after the next, each one landing him in a messier conundrum where the only escape is telling bigger lies and shedding more blood.
It would be inaccurate to say Pattinson is unrecognizable as Connie – the YA heartthrob has too handsome and recognizable a face to totally disappear into a role. But there’s something remarkable about how well Pattinson’s good looks meld with his seedy, lowlife character. He’s disarmingly handsome, which he uses to manipulate others including an underaged teen (Taliah Webster), but when you get up close you can see the ruthlessness in his eyes.
His Connie looks like a guy you’d spot in a New York City bodega in the middle of the night. He’s a hustler who never has a plan but manages to find ways to cover his ass no matter the cost, and often that results in violent and disturbing moments (one of which is still up for debate). But Pattinson doesn’t rely on a showy performance to prove his dramatic talents here. He’s in almost every scene, and even his quieter ones – at one point he breaks from a kidnapping scheme to give a sick old lady a sip of juice, but only after taking a sip himself – he’s completely electric. It’s an astoundingly good performance from start to finish.
Besides Pattinson, the standout is Buddy Duress. The breakout actor from Heaven Knows What, discovered by the directors on the streets of New York, plays Ray, a loud-mouthed inmate recently released on parole. In one sequence, while sitting in a White Castle parking lot, Ray speedily recounts a too-insane-to-be-true drug bender over a frantically edited flashback. It’s the type of scene that’s so funny because it’s so wild and appears out of nowhere, but once you stop laughing the ugliness of the situation hits you. In a way Good Time fools you with its dark sense of humor, allowing you to relax a bit after the previous hour of jolting intensity, only to catapult you right back into it in a heart-racing macabre final act. It’s a ride that rushes along so quickly you hardly get a moment to stop and process just what you’ve seen.
With both Good Time and Heaven Knows What, the Safdies have turned traditional heist and addiction dramas into unique portraits of sordid lives, sculpted by a distinct, visceral style (both shot by DP Sean Price Williams). Both films depict the gritty and often depressing worlds of New York City lowlifes without placing judgement or romanticizing their criminal endeavors. But while their previous film was more of a brief snapshot of one young girl’s day-to-day life, Good Time charts a more complete narrative. Like a bad trip, it’s a haunting, disorienting experience that’s somehow still oddly thrilling.