Robert Pattinson makes his presence known as soon as he enters the picture. In the opening scene, the camera fixes in tight on the face of a mentally challenged man in an unflatteringly lit office. A social worker is heard guiding him through a basic response test, such as word comparison. The answers are mumbled and jumbled, until the man associates a frying pan with a weapon. There’s been violence in his home. His eyes well up with tears as he relives the memory. We’re getting somewhere. Suddenly, the wrenching intimacy in that moment explodes like a clap of thunder: Pattinson bursts into the room, shouts that this man does not belong in there and hauls him out of the room. We’re in a New York psychiatric treatment facility. That man is his brother.
Suck it, Edward Cullen. In the electrifying crime-drama Good Time, the actor finally shows that he has range beyond that of a brooding, sleepy-eyed vampire. Playing a small-time crook on the run in the most desperate night of his life, he gives his most commanding performance yet. Indeed, Pattinson, using his best East Coast dialect, is in virtually every scene of this adrenaline rush of a movie. A rock-synth musical score, neon lights, choppy editing and guerilla-style cinematography all factor into the frazzled story. It’s not until the film hits the brakes that we’re able to breathe and appreciate his virtuoso work.
The action moves directly from the facility to the confines of a nondescript Brooklyn bank. Pattinson’s character, Constantine Nikas, convinces his brother, Nick, (Benny Safdie, who codirected and cowrote the film with his own brother, Josh Safdie) to put on a disguise and rob it. Tense stuff. They pull it off, escaping by the skin of their rubber teeth. The cops are on their tails, though. Constantine gets away; Nick stumbles and falls into police custody. Connie desperately wants to spring his beloved brother out of the county jail. Posting bail isn’t an option. He finagles a plan upon learning that Nick was in a fight and got transferred to Elmhurst Hospital.
With that basic premise, Nick enters an invigorating odyssey into the underbelly of the gritty city. (The Safdies must be fans of Dog Day Afternoon. Nothing wrong with that!) Good Time unfolds over this long suspenseful night. Using handheld cameras, the bothers follow Connie frantically moving from the hospital to a bus to a living room to an amusement park to a high-rise apartment and every dark, filthy crevice in between. Pattinson also dyes his hair blonde at one point, in the most amusing impromptu-hair-color-change-to-elude-the-cops sequence since Harrison Ford in The Fugitive.In theory, there’s no good reason to root for a criminal who knowingly puts his brother in harm’s way and has no qualms about lying and stealing his way to freedom. He’s violent. Dangerous. But he’s also charismatic and quick-thinking. (Only a resourceful con artist would befriend an old woman on a bus in the middle of the night and then knock on her door for help.) And, yes, he’s a good time.
There’s a raw immediacy to Connie’s quest to help his brother. And even when the film veers wildly off course, the mayhem still reverberates. His actions do have repercussions, though. And the coda is quietly affecting. So don’t be trepidatious. R-Patz is behind the wheel, and it’s for the best if we all take a seat and go along for the ride. I call shotgun.
(Good Time opens in selected theaters on Friday, August 11)
Also published on Medium.