The fraternal directing duo of Josh and Benny Safdie make urban odysseys that flow with the quicksilver currents of New York City. You can feel the gum-stained pavement under your feet. You can smell the Q train.
The Safdies were already an electric new energy in cinema -- streetwise and scuzzy -- but in the ironically titled caper "Good Time," they have quickened their kinetic pace. This movie, wild and erratic, is downright blistering.
"Good Time"★ ★ ★ ½
Starring: Robert Pattinson, Benny Safdie, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Buddy Duress, Taliah Webster
Directed by: Josh and Benny Safdie
Other: An A24 release. Rated R for language, violence, drug use and sexual situations. 99 minutes
Many of their gritty, abrasive tales emanate directly from the street; that's where they found the homeless, heroin-addicted protagonist (Arielle Holmes) of their last film, the verite "Heaven Knows What." The same could not be said for the star of "Good Time": Robert Pattinson. The "Twilight" actor, captivated by a still from "Heaven Knows What," contacted the Safdies and out came "Good Time."
Pattinson plays Connie, one of two brothers from Queens. The other, Nick (played by co-director Benny Safdie), is mentally challenged. With no parents apparently on the scene, Connie is Nick's keeper, and a highly questionable one at that. In the opening scene, he pulls Nick out of a psychiatrist session, admonishing him as they hustle down the hallway that it's not where he belongs.
Not moments after fleeing the doctor, Connie is ordering Nick to put on a mask and leading him into a bank robbery. Not since "Dog Day Afternoon" has a more unprepared pair tried their hand at an ill-considered heist. They emerge with $60,000 in cash but soon after their livery cab driver picks them up, a dye pack explodes and the brothers spill out of the car in a cloud of red smoke.
From here, it's a nonstop freefall. Chased by the police, Nick crashes through a glass door and is arrested. Connie, desperate to put bail money together, first tries to take advantage of his better-off girlfriend (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and, when that fails, improvises his way through increasingly audacious schemes in a nocturnal adventure that somehow includes trips to an amusement park, White Castle and a random household in which Connie takes the time to dye his hair blond. Along the way, Taliah Webster, as a black teen exploited by Connie, and the "Heaven Knows What" actor Buddy Duress, give terrific performances. (Duress' entrance is alone worth the price of admission.)
In the annals of the crime film, the pulpy "Good Time" is roughly the opposite of something like the uber-professional thieves of "Heat." At one point, "Cops" is seen on a television, and these are the kind of dimwitted exploits that would fit right in there. But aside from being a devoted brother, the predatory Connie also is a clever, lecherous user of people.
In the film's headlong rush, the jailed Nick virtually disappears, and that feels like a mistake. If there's a knock on "Good Time," it's that its sheer eagerness for anything unconventional comes at the cost of something deeper.
But what a trip it is. "Good Time" flies by in a rush of neon colors and the throbbing electro score of Oneohtrix Point Never. The cinematography of Sean Price Williams is exceptionally agile. Williams fuses grainy realism with frozen moments held in a lengthy zoom.
And in close-up, we see Pattinson more clearly than ever before. His performance -- sensitive and controlled amid the chaos -- is easily the best of his career. But the Safdies, one suspects, are just getting started.