Robert Pattinson gives a blistering performance in this frantic crime movie about two brothers trying to escape New York's tough streets
Good Time, Benny and Josh Safdie’s latest film, pays homage to the cinema of the 1970s, with a gritty retro-aesthetic rooted in contemporary America. The result is a breathless heist movie which proves to be the directing duo’s finest work so far.
The film stars an unrecognisable Robert Pattinson as low-level bank robber Connie, and the actor offers up his most accomplished performance to date. Dressed in a series of scuzzy hoodies and with a Cobain-style mop of bleached blonde hair, the Twilight star manages to disappear into his character and blend into the suroundings.
Opposite Pattinson is Benny Safdie, who co-directs himself as Connie’s brother, Nick, who has learning difficulties – it is a subtle, sympathetic performance. We watch as Nick is yanked by Connie from an interview with a therapist because he doesn’t believe anyone else can care for his brother. Next we see them hidden behind latex masks robbing a bank – and this is all before the opening credits.
Good Time is a frantic ride, but at the core of the film is the brothers’ relationship. Both are desperate to get out of New York and start a new life, even if they have to borrow and steal to achieve it. The tragedy lies in this aspect of the film: you feel for them, but you know the lot they have been dealt isn't likely to change. There are hints at past difficulties: a rarely-seen grandma is the only relative mentioned, and we presume their parents are dead or don’t care.
The tension is ratcheted up with the help of the extraordinary, adrenaline-drip of a soundtrack that defines the mood and emotion of each scene. The cinematography from Sean Price Williams is all texture and retro grain, and is full of absorbing overhead views of the rougher streets of New York as the brothers dart about the city. We stare on as the duo are caught in a cat and mouse chase with the cops, with Nick eventually crashing through a glass door and slumping to the floor as he is handcuffed by the NYPD. Meanwhile, Connie charges through the streets finally reaching the home of his emotionally erratic girlfriend, Corey, strongly portrayed by Jennifer Jason Leigh in an all too brief appearance.
Connie always has a plan, typically made in the moment, and he hopes to squeeze Corey for money to bail out his brother. It doesn’t work out. Connie's desperation increases with every scene. There is a hapless quality to the character; you can tell from the opening moments of the film that he’s never had much luck, but his priority has always been his vulnerable brother, for whom he will risk all.
Good Time is a story of people on the fringes, hustling however they can to get by. When Corey is unable to put up the bail money, Connie scrambles, trying to find the cash any way possible. His schemes vary depending on the circumstance, ranging from trying to bust Nick out to setting up drug deals in an unpredictable course of events.
Pattison’s expression is a weary one, always running on borrowed time. Exhausted and desperate, his eyes reflect his fear and panicked thinking, scheming in the moment and manipulating whomever he crosses.
It’s a breathless tale, with a script from regular collaborators Ronald Bronstein and Joshua Safdie that is full of friction and nuanced characters. While its stylised vintage aesthetic might have you thinking this is more show than substance, that couldn’t be further from the truth. This tale of two brothers trying to get by in a world that seems dead set to stop them has both beauty and depth.
Good Time screens at Summerhall, Edinburgh, Wed 18 May, 8:45pm, part of The Cineskinny Film Club – tickets here
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