Good Time review: tense showdowns in this fascinating New York thriller

Nobody looks healthy – least of all Robert Pattinson – in the Safdie brothers’ latest movie

The official trailer for "Good Time", starring Robert Pattinson. Video: A24

Robert Pattinson in Good Time: his hair is yellowed to the colour of diseased liver, his eyes suspiciously unblinking

Film Title: Good Time

Director: Ben Safdie, Josh Safdie

Starring: Robert Pattinson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Ben Safdie, Barkhad Abdi, Buddy Duress

Genre: Crime

Running Time: 101 min

Fri, Nov 17, 2017, 05:00

   

 If we have learnt anything about Robert Pattinson’s exemplary post-Twilight career it is that he wants us to talk about something other than his celebrity. There is a teeny paradox here. Like Kristen Stewart, he uses fame to get interesting projects made and then yearns for us to treat him like any other actor. Fair enough.

Let us get his contribution out of the way first. Pattinson is the clogged, fluttering heart of Ben and Josh Safdie’s fascinating New York thriller. Hair yellowed to the colour of diseased liver, his eyes suspiciously unblinking, he gives us a borderline idiot who gets by on determination and creative amorality. You’d cross the street to get away from Connie Nikas, but that wouldn’t stop him following you home to rifle through your change jar. If there were any lingering doubts that Pattinson can shift personae then they have surely been dispelled.

Rob would, nonetheless, be happy for us to note that his is not the best performance in a consistently odd film. We begin with Ben Safdie delivering a worrying, heart-rending turn as Connie’s mentally disabled brother Nick. He is undergoing some sort of psychological evaluation and, we suspect, is not giving the answers the boffins want to hear. When asked to provide a connection between “scissors and a cooking pan” he replies: “You can hurt yourself with both”. The young man begins to weep. Before they get a chance to finish, Connie bursts in and pulls his brother away. “How would you like it if I made you cry?” he says pathetically.

Sketchy plans

The set up is a common one in American fiction. We think of Rain Man. We consider Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. But Connie proves to be less crafty than the sly protectors in those two stories. He has ideas. But they’re mostly bad ones. His worst idea is to rob a bank and make for Virginia with the cash. The job is bungled in semi-comic fashion and poor Nick, his face a mess of bandages, ends up detained in hospital.

Connie’s one great virtue is loyalty to his brother. Various sketchy plans are hatched to spring Nick from custody. An angular Jennifer Jason Leigh turns up as Connie’s girlfriend and fumes as he rips off her mom’s credit card. He inveigles his way into the home of an elderly Haitian woman. In the film’s weakest and least plausible section, he makes a ludicrous error after descending on the hospital where Nick is detained.

Good Time’s arc leads us through escalating chaos towards tense showdowns in an amusement park at night. Nick’s character doesn’t exactly develop, but we do see its innards teased gradually apart. Ben Safdie’s touching performance bookends the film with enormous grace.

Robert Pattinson and Talia Webster in Good Time
Robert Pattinson and Talia Webster in Good Time

Menacing score

Good Time is, however, mostly memorable for its mottled, unsettling texture. The menacing electronic score by Oneohtrix Point Never – all slippery throbs and cardiac beats – is just about the only sleek element in a consistently awkward aesthetic. The red dye, released when the inept robbers tear open stolen cash, seems to infuse the outer boroughs with an unhealthy synthetic blush. It’s hard not to think of the colours that Martin Scorsese borrowed from Michael Powell for Mean Streets. This is, however, a more oppressive, less energised version of New York City. Nobody dresses well. Nobody looks healthy. Artificial fibres bristle in faintly illuminated apartments. A low-level hum of racism follows the non-white characters around.

Clocking in at 99 minutes, Good Time – occasionally funny, but definitely not a comedy – screeches to a halt before that atmosphere becomes too much to bear. It’s not always fun. It’s not always nice. But it nags away at you long after it has ended. I suspect that’s what Rob was hoping for.