Robert Pattinson has one of the most recognizable faces in movies. In “Good Time,” the directing team of Josh and Benny Safdie uses a lot of extreme close-ups, so the viewer can’t see much else on the screen except a face.
And yet, five minutes into “Good Time,” you forget it’s even Pattinson.
The British actor submerses himself so thoroughly into the role of a desperate New York petty criminal that memories of “Twilight” fade into the background. The Safdie brothers’ film is a dizzyingly entertaining race-against-the-clock thriller and a socially aware urban drama. It never lets up.
Pattinson plays Connie, fittingly named, as he’s a con man and petty thief whose gift for lying to and manipulating those around him would be almost admirable if he wasn’t so depraved. The ease with which he convinces a troubled middle-aged woman (Jennifer Jason Leigh) that he loves her and will take her away with him — all to get access to her mother’s credit cards — is impressive and scary.
The one person Connie doesn’t lie to is his mentally challenged brother, Nick (played by Benny Safdie). Connie and Nick were raised by their abusive grandmother, and there’s an “Of Mice and Men”-type bond between the two brothers, with Connie looking out for the hapless Nick.
Well, looking out for him to a point. Connie enlists Nick to help him in a bank robbery. In the aftermath, Connie gets away but Nick is nabbed by the police. A bail bondsman tells him he needs $10,000 to get his brother released from jail, where Nick will be easy prey for his violent fellow inmates.
The rest of the movie propels Connie over one long night in New York as he tries to get the money. It’s a grimy odyssey, with the Safdie brothers avoiding the usual New York locales for grittier, more authentic locations, including a Queens hospital, a mall and a dingy amusement park named Adventureland.
The Safdie brothers' last film, “Heaven Knows What,” was a similar journey through the dark heart of their city. But while that film ran in circles, following its junkie main character’s endless cycle of highs and lows, “Good Time” is all forward momentum, pushing Connie into one situation after another in his quest for the $10,000.
The mix of breakneck plotting and gritty authenticity, using real locations and many non-actors, gives the film a bracing, nervy energy. The ever-present, thrumming electronic soundtrack from Oneohtrix Point Never helps keep our pulses racing.
The film colors the cityscape with garish neon blues, greens and red. When the action moves to that cheesy amusement park, the color scheme has already been established. The people Connie meets along his journey — some threatening, others sympathetic — are painted in quick, deft strokes, adding up to a broad portrait of urban, working-class life, of a city that the tourists in Manhattan never see.
Like his “Twilight” co-star Kristen Stewart, Pattinson has effectively erased his teen heartthrob persona with a series of strong, subdued performances in indie films like “The Lost City of Z” and “Childhood of a Leader.” In the central role of “Good Time,” he re-emerges as a very different actor than we’ve known before, compelling and urgent.