Good Time is a sleazy synth-trip through New York City that stews in a bath of Walter Hill and Running Scared influences. Very Point-A-to-Point-B, burning like a 100-minute fuse. The Safdie brothers (Benny/Josh) navigate New York City like a character itself, creating an underbelly thriller that speeds around dangerous streets with cavalier opportunism. It’s a movie that could ONLY happen in NYC – as sprawling as it is multifaceted. But even better? An A-list Hollywood heartthrob sheds beautification in favor of back-alley survival scars. Performance becomes transformation and vampire glitter fades to grime (hint at the actor who grows tremendously with each tough break).
Robert Pattinson stars as Connie Nikas, a common thug who’d do anything for his mentally disabled, hearing-challenged brother Nick (Benny Safdie). Connie refuses to watch Nick waste time under psychiatric treatment. He’d rather rob a bank and flee to the country with Nick than live on the grid, so that’s exactly what he does. Masks, disguises, a getaway car – it’s all gangbusters until Nick gets pinched by pursuing police detail. Without hesitation, Connie strings together another plan to rescue Nick from incarceration. He hits up “girlfriend” Corey (Jennifer Jason Leigh) for bail money, gets tangled with an accomplice (Ray, played by Buddy Duress), and somehow involves a 16-year-old girl (Crystal, played by Taliah Webster). As Nick gets his ass kicked in jail, Connie pulls every stunt imaginable in the name of brotherly love – illegal, incriminating stunts that may lead to his own arrest.
While the actual plot isn’t as action-heavy as the above suggests, Good Time is still one helluva slimeball-with-a-soft-side hit. Connie’s actions come from a place of love. Nick cannot survive alone, and it’s obvious that Grandma can’t sufficiently control his outbursts – or, that’s what Connie sees. This coming from a man who immediately criminalizes Nick, because family is family. A poor scared man forced into a latex mask, who then gets tagged by a bright-red paint bomb. We feel for Nick and Connie’s relationship and understand Connie’s actions, but know the hurt he’s causing. This is made evident through Connie’s mook-savvy manipulation, wacky as these interactions may be. Family first, but not necessarily through the best means. It’s hard to ignore the flaws of others when blood ties are involved, and the Safdies blur this line rather well.
Then again, the unpredictable depravity of Connie’s wild ride offers no shortage of strange, comical and off-color beats that jump around like a doped-up jazz musician. Tip-toeing a volatility that could erupt in disastrous chaos at any moment, yet poetic in the most unkempt way. “I think you’re tied to my purpose” Connie tells a 16-year-old teen, in the car he stole from her grandmother, while she eats White Castle they just purchased before tying to find a Sprite bottle filled with acid that was dropped in a closed-down, fetish-themed haunted house. This is after he’s staged a police-dodging hospital breakout, but before someone falls out of a way-too-many-stories-high window. Still with me?
In a pre-show Q&A, Josh Safdie called Good Time a “popcorn flick that never stops,” and there’s little refuting his claim. Once Connie and Nick botch their life-changing heist it’s all musician Daniel Lopatin’s junkie-den synthesizer assault, Pattinson’s die-trying will and madness. Pure, unadulterated madness.
While Good Time boasts a career-expanding role from Pattinson, supporting characters mine varying successes. Jennifer Jason Leigh appears early on – an aged mommy’s girl with an unlimited credit card (Pattinson’s plaything) – but her spoiled princess act is stranger than it is entertaining. Barkhad Abdi, meanwhile, plays a security guard who gets punked, dosed and identity swiped to little notoriety. Pattinson does all the heavy lifting, but as cinematic framing distorts the dingy side streets of New York City, supporting story deviations can feel disconnected. There’s no controlling the insane nature of each overblown caricature, statement-makers or not.
Taliah Webster – playing a 16-year-old rebel child – and Buddy Duress – a wrong place/wrong time accomplice – are the unsung MVPs of Good Time, tuned to Pattinson’s laser-focused frequency. Exposing how Duress meets Pattinson would be a spoiler, but just know there’s no more baffling, or appropriate, introduction. Webster’s is a bit simpler, merely just smoking weed in her grandma’s house. Different styles (Webster chilled as ice, Duress bruised and drunk), both woven into Pattinson’s stand-out moments be them through word (the “loser” monologue to Duress) or an inappropriate distraction technique when Webster almost glimpses Pattinson’s mugshot. Together, the three become a motley crew who cruise the night – but Pattinson is always in control. Twisting their knobs and pushing their buttons.
Control. Let’s keep on this topic because this is the key to one of – if not the – best performance of Rob Pattinson’s career. No boundaries are left uncrossed, self martyrdom always within reach (in reference to Connie’s state of mine). He’s a smooth talker, a cocky walker and never without a plan – this junior-league cockroach whose eyes scream a soulful brand of pain. He’s also a jester, be it a random hair-dying scene (Connie goes bleach-blonde as a disguise) or his berating of Duress’ heavily injured sidekick. That “New York-ah” accent barking orders, only topped by the same “New York-ah” street-walkin’ attitude. Pattinson vanishes behind a gritty, kicked-in-the-teeth anti-hero, desperation his cologne of choice. Baggy hoodies his uniform. You’ve never seen this Pattinson in a very James-Franco-from-Spring-Breakers way – and you damn well should.
At the beginning of this review, I was going to give Good Time 3 stars. It hits the ground running, stumbles a bit, but then when Buddy Durress shows up it’s like a shot of adrenaline (his recounting of personal events even shuts Connie up). That’s the REAL point where the Safdie boys hit their directorial groove, playing with hallucinogenic neon visuals and pavement-slapping chase tension. Benny Safdie even earns some points by portraying Nick – but there’s not doubt that Robert Pattinson is the driving force, supporting backbone and constant high of Good Time. Slick-witted, sly and never counted out. Same goes for this punch-in-the-face city thriller. Is Pattinson worth a whole additional half-star on his own? Yes – and probably more on some scales.