After a botched bank robbery lands his vulnerable younger brother in prison, small-time hustler Connie (Robert Pattinson) is plunged into the buzzing labyrinth of New York’s underworld in an increasingly desperate attempt to free the only family he has.

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Tightly wound crime caper sees the Twilight star sprinting away from his heartthrob past

Good Time opens with a scene that’s anything but: Nick (Benny Safdie, one half of the directing team alongside his brother Josh) is undergoing a therapy session that’s more an psych evaluation of this clearly struggling character – and a hint at the family strife that may have played a role in his current plight. But just as we’re on the brink of a real insight, Nick’s brother Connie (Robert Pattinson) bursts in, abuses the therapist, and drags his brother out, all under the guise of doing him some good. It’s a pattern we’re going to see again in this breathless thriller: while Connie’s idea of helping his brother clearly comes from the heart, it doesn’t seem to have spent a whole lot of time passing through his head.

Pattinson’s been pushing himself further away from his Twilight heartthrob days with each successive role, but Connie may be his biggest leap to date. The ratty clothes, greasy bleached hair and patchy stubble aren’t exactly pin-up idol material, but it’s the sweaty, manic gleam in his eye that really puts his past to rest. Connie’s clearly not a man you want to put any real faith in, so when his next move after collecting his brother is to bring him along while he robs a bank – an attempt so full of basic crime errors that having them get away at first seems like a flaw in the film’s logic, until it all falls apart in the most obvious way possible  – it’s hard not to groan in despair.

And the film hasn’t even really started yet. Their bungled robbery leads to a bungled escape, which sees Nick caught and sent to Riker’s Island while Connie scurries around trying to scrounge up the bail money. Nick isn’t a guy who does well with rules and restrictions while those around him solve arguments with their fists, so getting him out is a priority. Unfortunately Connie’s first idea – to hit up his somewhat deluded girlfriend (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to divert holiday funds into Nick’s bail – devolves into a screaming match. That’s a sign of things to come: as the night wears on and Connie’s search for the money gets more frantic, it feels like a scream is building up inside the film itself. And Connie is not a guy you’d trust to release that kind of energy.

"As the night wears on and Connie’s search for the money gets more frantic, it feels like a scream is building up inside the film itself." 

The Safdie brothers (Daddy Longlegs, Heaven Knows What) have polished the traditional “one crazy night” formula into a powerful, propulsive thriller with a solid emotional core beneath the surface scuzz. Set in a garish New York lit by harsh neon and flapping plastic (there’s a moment where Connie’s face should be dyed reddish-purple but the way he’s lit it’s hard to tell – and he’s on the street in daylight) and driven by a relentless, throbbing soundtrack, the city has a nightmarish quality that closes in around Connie. But while he’s in a Hell of his own making, he’s made it out of love for his brother, and Paterson never lets that love drop out of sight even when he’s at his edgy, antsy worst.

He’s at the centre of a storm of great performances – Benny Safdie avoids all the clichés as the mentally disabled Nick, and Leigh gives a typically strong performance as a woman going off the rails fast – but it’s newcomer Taliah Webster as Crystal, a seen-it-all teen who links up with Connie, who’s the surprise stand-out. Despite the slick thriller polish of Connie’s quest, Good Time always leaves just enough room between the dramatics for the characters to reveal their humanity. They can’t help who they are; we can’t help watching as that drives them to their doom.

 

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Watch Robert Pattinson in 'Life' at SBS On Demand