Make no mistake, the Robert Pattinson in Good Time is nothing like the Robert Pattinson we have seen on screen before, and that is a very good thing. Cast aside what you think about Pattinson from the body of work he has produced thus far and be prepared to discover just what he is capable of when given the right material. That is not to say that Pattinson’s character here is in any way likeable, but his performance is very impressive in a role that is far removed from anything he has done previously. As deluded deadbeat Connie Nikas, Pattinson takes on a character whose moral compass is off the dial, seemingly unable to comprehend the depths of his own ineptitude in his bid to stay ahead of the authorities and rescue his brother from police custody. Directed by siblings Ben and Joshua Safdie, whose previous release Heaven Knows What secured plenty of critical love and a few awards as well, Good Time is anything but for the various characters who become ensnared in Connie’s chaos. The plot is bonkers, but a throbbing score by Daniel Lopatin and a strong, charismatic turn from Pattinson combine to keep you invested even though you know there is much about what transpires that doesn’t make much sense.
We first meet Connie when he ‘rescues’ his intellectually-impaired brother Nick – played by Ben Safdie – from a counselling session, ostensibly so that Ben can accompany him on a bank robbery that seems to run smoothly enough but ultimately proves the catalyst for everything that follows. When Nick is snatched up by the police, Connie’s focus switches to securing sufficient money for bail, only to learn that Nick has been hospitalised after being assaulted in prison. From here, things spiral out of control as Connie bounces from one setback to the next with an ineptitude, and complete lack of self-awareness, that is hilarious at times and somewhat horrifying at others. When Connie’s attempt to heist Nick from the hospital goes awry, he subsequently finds himself embroiled in somebody else’s misdeeds, teaming up with a recently released prisoner and a teenage girl in his increasing desperation.
In an all-too-brief performance, Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight) is funny/sad as Corey, a delusional girlfriend of Connie’s on whom he – somewhat ambitiously perhaps given how beholden she is to her mother’s purse strings – pins his hopes of providing the bail money to free Nick, only to find she is far more fixated on a holiday he has promised her than she is in securing Nick’s release. Newcomer Taliah Webster is a real find as Crystal, a 16-year-old with a seen-it-all unflappability who finds herself in Connie’s orbit when he holes up in her grandma’s house overnight. Webster’s moments with Pattinson are some of the films warmest and most unsettling but, having encouraged the audience to become emotionally invested in Crystal’s plight, the Safdie boys don’t seem to know how to bring her arc to a satisfying conclusion and she simply disappears from the plot. Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips, Eye in the Sky) also pops up as a security guard, featuring in a scene that plays out more comically than perhaps intended, while Buddy Duress – who has worked with the Safdies previously in Heaven Knows What – plays the hapless parolee who finds himself being dragged along for the ride.
The film is brimming with a mad energy and Pattinson is almost unrecognisable, both in appearance and in the quality of his performance as Connie. Even though he manages to defeat the odds on more than one occasion, there is never a moment when you think that it will end well. With street lamps and neon lighting the way, cinematographer Sean Price Williams creates a vivid, almost hallucinatory feel to proceedings, while Lopatin’s score – which won the Soundtrack Award at Cannes and includes a collaboration with Iggy Pop – elevates this sombre, downbeat movie into something quite thrilling despite the inevitabilities that await the various players.