Good Time review: Robert Pattinson careens the Safdies’ mean streets

Pattinson’s lone sibling desperado rampages nocturnal New York in Benny and Josh Safdie’s streetish 70s-throwback bungled heist thriller.

☞ Good Time screens at the BFI London Film Festival on Thursday 5 and Sunday 8 October.

Michael Leader
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Robert Pattinson as Connie in Happy End (2017)

Robert Pattinson as Connie in Happy End (2017)

Offering a much-needed burst of energy to a rather sedate and stuffy back half of the Cannes competition comes the new film from the multi-hyphenated Safdie brothers, Josh (director, co-writer, co-editor) and Benny (director, co-star). Good Time is a tale of one wild night told at a relentless pace, and it doesn’t hang about, compressing a first act’s worth of set-up into a flashy opening title sequence. Two brothers, Connie (Robert Pattinson) and Nick (Ben Safdie), fumble a bank job. Nick is sent to prison while Connie goes on the run, pursued by the cops yet unwilling to leave town without his younger sibling in tow.

Connie is a creature of instinct, an urban animal whose lack of big-picture thinking pushes him further and further into a chaotic, perilous evening. What starts as a straightforward task – gather $10,000 for his brother’s bail bond – becomes increasingly knotted, even farcical, as he schemes a hospital breakout, sweet-talks his way into an old lady’s home for shelter and ends up searching for a discarded bottle of acid in a darkened amusement park after hours.

Pattinson is playing for keeps, throwing himself into the Safdies’ shabby, stylised spin on street-level realism. Comparisons have been made with Robert De Niro’s star-making role in Mean Streets (Martin Scorsese sits atop the ‘Gratitude’ list in the credits), but where Johnny Boy was an unpredictable firecracker, Pattinson imbues Connie with an enigmatic, desperate, directionless energy. Every conversation is a hustle, every passerby a potential mark, and as the night drags on, one starts to wonder for whom, or for what, Connie is really fighting. His careless, callous behaviour soon starts to resemble a subtle yet blunt comment on white privilege. His aggression is often targeted at black, or immigrant, characters (Barkhad Abdi’s night-shift security guard is particularly abused by character and filmmakers alike). And if it were at all unclear, a blink-and-miss cameo from comic-book character turned alt-right meme Pepe the Frog should bring everything into sharper focus.

Pattinson with co-director Benny Safdie as Connie’s brother Nick

Pattinson with co-director Benny Safdie as Connie’s brother Nick

If Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive was a dream-pop take on the crime thriller, in Good Time the Safdies attempt to drag the throwback fetishism back down to earth. The film is primarily shot in handheld close-up, and is expressively lit in strobes, blacklight, electric hues and a fluorescent haze that acts as a halfway house between the heightened and the mundane. One location, as a character handily explains, has no working light fixtures, so the scene plays out in the static glare of a TV set. It’s a contrived approach that in part succeeds in reintroducing a bit of grit to the genre, but it’s only a veneer of realism.

Paradoxically, Good Time is at its best when it lets itself loose. Aside from the work of the Safdies and their lead star, the film’s MVP is Brooklyn-based electronic maestro Oneohtrix Point Never, whose occasionally egregious but wholly exciting soundtrack performs dazzling feats throughout. At times it recalls Tangerine Dream’s landmark score for Michael Mann’s Thief, rearranged and pumped up for an 80s cop show, with squalling lead lines soaring over a bed of arpeggiated, claustrophobic bass stabs. It’s hair-raising and thrilling in a way that the Safdies can’t quite capture. Expect to find this soundtrack, come Good Time’s release later this year, filed next to Drive, Under the Skin and It Follows in every hipster’s vinyl collection.

 

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