Robert Pattinson. New York City. One wild night. What could possibly go wrong? In Good Time's account of a petty crook trying to rustle up some cash to get his brother out of jail, the answer is plenty. The title is tongue-in-cheek, for the characters at least. For the audience, it's more of a promise. A good time is all but guaranteed as you watch Benny and Josh Safdie's grubby, energetic heist movie unfold.
Gritty but vivid is an unlikely blend, and yet that's Good Time from start to finish. In the siblings' hands, the film is so grimy that you can almost feel the dirt, blood and blonde hair dye getting under your fingernails (full credit to cinematographer Sean Price Williams and his constantly roaming camera). Amplifying the sense of immediacy even further is Oneohtrix Point Never's pulsating electronic soundtrack, which proves so urgent and exhilarating in its mood and rhythm that you'll feel as riled up as the figures on screen.
When a bank robbery leaves Connie (Pattinson) and his mentally challenged brother Nick (played by Benny Safdie) covered in telltale red paint from head to toe, the particularly crafty crim is quick to search for a solution. After the cops spot them and detain Nick, he's desperate and determined to rustle up the cash for his bail — sweet-talking his sometimes-girlfriend (Jennifer Jason Leigh), staging a hospital rescue, fooling around with a teenager (Taliah Webster), trying to find some stashed acid, and tussling with an amusement park security guard (Barkhad Abdi) in the process.
This eclectic series of events would be played for laughs in any other movie, but that's not Good Time's angle. Likewise, a lesser film might have wallowed in its protagonist's backstory, making him a sympathetic underdog with a thousand reasons for breaking bad. That's not what the talented Safdies are up to either. Like their last picture, the excellent heroin addict drama Heaven Knows What, the duo plunge into marginalised worlds that many of their viewers won't have experienced, and from there let their characters do the talking. The siblings' distinctive on-the-street style never fails to set the tone, or demonstrate their eye for rich texture and grungy detail.
That said, the filmmakers are also aided by their high-profile star giving what might just be the finest performance of his career — and with a growing array of great non-Twilight turns on his resume, that's saying something. Armed with peroxide locks, a greasy complexion and a jittery demeanour, in Good Time Pattinson wears his character's confident, quick-thinking guise like a second skin. The charm to always get his way, the resourcefulness to constantly find a path forward, the smarts to get the best of almost everyone he encounters: thanks to this former teen heart-throb, the scheming, scamming, never-stopping Connie is magnetic, dynamic, complicated and compelling. In one of the year's best films, Pattinson is having a very good time indeed.