Starring Robert Pattinson, Ben Safdie, Taliah Webster, Jennifer Jason Leigh; directed by Ben Safdie and Josh Safdie; 100 minutes; R for crude language throughout, violence, drug use and sexuality.
In the lowlife picaresque "Good Time," Robert Pattinson delivers what some will surely call a career-making performance, especially if they've missed his impressive turns in indies "The Rover," "Maps to the Stars," "Queen of the Desert" and "The Lost City of Z."
No matter. Connie Nikas, Pattinson's stumblebum character in "Good Time," feels reverse-engineered to get the former teen screen idol the attention he deserves for serious-acting chops, checking every box from antisocial tendencies to a startling physical transformation. As "Good Time" opens, Connie bursts into an office where a well-meaning therapist is questioning his hearing-impaired and cognitively delayed brother Nick (Ben Safdie). Connie arrives as a long-buried trauma is surfacing, which alerts the audience to the irony of the film's title: No matter how noble the intentions of a protagonist, there's something to be said for good timing.
Some old-fashioned smarts and self-awareness wouldn't hurt either.
Connie leads Nick on a caper that ends in his increasingly hallucinatory journey through the neon-lit underworld of Queens. In a manic rendition of an antihero who's one part Charlie Manson and one part Kurt Cobain, Pattinson infuses Connie with charm and malevolence. He'll do anything to get what he wants. In the name of fraternal loyalty, he'll manipulate himself into the pocketbooks and good graces of anyone whose path he crosses, whether the woman he's dating (played with ditsy pathos by Jennifer Jason Leigh) or the wised-up but vulnerable teenage granddaughter of a Haitian immigrant (Taliah Webster).
Co-directed by Safdie with his brother Josh, "Good Time" bears some resemblance to their previous "Daddy Longlegs" and "Heaven Knows What." "Good Time" represents an artistic leap forward, in its debt to canonical thrillers and its improbably rich look. Sean Price Williams here embraces an elegant, composed sense of beauty, occasionally leaving tight, jangly close-ups to exhilarating views of the Queens streets below. ("Good Time" was shot on 35 mm film, and it has the texture and translucence to show for it.)
As Connie trips the night fatalistic, "Good Time" takes on a harder edge by way of the assaultive, techno score (by Daniel Lopatin, under the recording alias of Oneohtrix Point Never) and Connie's sense of exceptionalism. Conspiring with a hangdog miscreant named Ray (Buddy Duress), Connie delivers a screed against dependency that somehow mashes up Freud and Ayn Rand with his own supreme hypocrisy. He has a way of saying "God bless you" just before he tricks yet another mark.
But a climax set in a hellish amusement park pushes "Good Time's" visuals to their limit. What starts as an invigorating odyssey winds up an enervating series of postures. For all of the Safdies' prowess, and Pattinson's willingness to rough up his own persona, there's little deeper meaning to a pulp thrill ride that turns out to be as petty as Connie's crimes.