SFF review: Good Time

Pattinson again proves himself an exemplary actor in a feisty pulp fiction from the Safdie brothers. Good times not included.

Burning a blazing streak across New York, the Safdie brothers Ben and Joshua worked an unforgettable nightmare of impending disaster scored with dread-filled synths in their drugged-up street feature Heaven Knows What.

Starring formerly homeless woman Arielle Holmes and working from a screenplay based on her experiences, it benefitted greatly from the straight talking of its non-professional cast. If their follow up Good Time upgrades to Hollywood big hitter Robert Pattinson, it loses none of its predecessor’s gritty authenticity, shot on the hoof again in the midst of big city chaos, with precious little of that title promise on show for its hapless characters.

Pattinson, continually one-upping himself in a remarkably ascendant career, much like one-time co-star Kristen Stewart, plays small time crook Connie Nikas, hoping to pull off a brazen bank heist with his brother Nick, who has learning difficulties. Co-director Ben Safdie steps into this role admirably.

While Connie’s love for Nick is clear, that reality is far from him being a good brother. There’s a tragic sense of collateral damage to his bloody-minded determination to break them both free into a better life, busting his brother out of therapy and on to the masked robbery that, far from setting them up for life instead risks a life sentence. All this in a breakneck race to the Stranger Things-like retro opening credits.

Nick’s capture and imprisonment after it all goes predictably wrong sets Connie of on yet another harebrained money-making scheme to make his brother’s bail and it spirals downwards from there, with Heaven Knows What star Buddy Duress popping up in a darkly comic plot beat with a whiff of farce to it. It’s a brief moment’s levity in what is a pulse pounding thrill ride, neon lit and bristling with intense close ups punctuated like machine gun fire with dizzying camera pans and aerial scans.

Like a wounded animal, Connie desperately lashes at any given out and in so doing will use and abuse everyone in his destructive path, from trying to extort money from his girlfriend Corey (an all too-brief appearance by Jennifer Jason Leigh) to taking advantage of the innocent good nature of Taliah Webster’s unwitting teenager and her suspicious mother, too under the pump and out of resources to stop him.

By the time the plot has skidded into a fairground funhouse on the hunt for hidden acid, Connie’s violent streak and sheer desperation are inflicted upon Captain Phillips star Barkhad Abdi’s unfortunate security guard. The good times and good nature are in short supply, but there’s a road kill fascination to just how far he will go and whether he can pull this manic mission off or not.

Collaborating again with screenwriter Ronald Bronstein, Joshua Safdie keeps this pace tight and the dialogue spare. He and Ben know how to wrangle the inherent drama of rock bottom and Pattinson – losing himself completely in a mad, bad role both cunning and clueless – fires this furiously fun pulp fiction.

Stephen A Russell @SARussellwords