Watch This offers movie recommendations inspired by new releases, premieres, current events, or occasionally just our own inscrutable whims. This week: You don’t have to go to the theater to get your Robert Pattinson fix. We’re looking back on some of the best performances from the one-time vampire, future caped crusader.
Filmmaking brothers Josh and Benny Safdie first made their name on low-budget movies without name actors, even crafting their addiction drama Heaven Knows What around the autobiographical details of non-actor Arielle Holmes. But it turns out that they may be even more skilled at helping established performers recontextualize themselves in career-redefining work. They famously assisted Adam Sandler to one of his best performances in last year’s Uncut Gems; two years earlier, they gave Robert Pattinson a showcase in the scuzzy caper Good Time.
Pattinson’s persona may not be as familiar or long-running as the Sandman’s, but Good Time still nods to it, intentionally or not. The actor became famous, of course, as Edward Cullen, the vampiric stalker-hero of the Twilight series, enrapturing teenage girls and older fans alike. In Good Time, his character uses a more metaphorical kind of bloodsucking charisma to seduce an actual teenage girl (Taliah Lennice Webster) and manipulate a decades-older paramour (Jennifer Jason Leigh). For anyone familiar with the Twilight fandom, this element plays like a discomfiting parody of Pattinson’s star power, with Edward’s sparkly brooding stripped away.
Pattinson’s Connie isn’t really after sex, though. He’s just willing to use any tool in his limited arsenal to distract, divert, and con his way into a reunion with his mentally disabled brother Nick (Benny Safdie). Nick has landed in New York’s Rikers Island after a botched bank robbery, planned by Connie as a desperate means of getting the brothers some seed money to set themselves up somewhere away from the city. Connie’s intentions are good but his methods are pure Safie-style chaos; Pattinson enters the movie by bursting into Nick’s counseling session with a psychiatrist (Peter Verby) who seems to want only to help. Connie berates the doctor for making Nick cry, then ushers his beloved brother straight into the hell of hold-ups, incarceration, the legal system, and vicious prison beatings.
When the latter lands Nick in a hospital, Connie sees a chance to smuggle his brother to freedom. He embarks on a long night of insane improvisation that includes the aforementioned teenage girl, a Sprite bottle full of liquid acid, mistaken identity, a feckless criminal named Ray (the appropriately named Buddy Duress), and New York’s Access-A-Ride service. Connie is the kind of New York lowlife British actors seem to love playing, maybe because it provides the opportunity to mask one distinctive accent with another. But Pattinson doesn’t overdo the Noo Yawk patter; he’s arguably more restrained than the Safdies, whose affinity for neon, agitated dialogue, and tight close-ups still feel a little like affectations here.
They’re also conditions under which Pattinson thrives. He’s especially expressive in close-ups that need to adhere to the movie’s portrayal of Connie as a scumbag and liar who’s also a quick thinker, if not exactly smart. When he’s finally forced to sit still in the movie’s second-to-last scene, he looks zonked in thought, as the Safdies slip his eyes in and out of visibility.
Though Connie and Nick’s situation is often dire, it also carries an undercurrent of farce. After all, the movie does involve its star donning a series of disguises including “Amusement Park Security Detail” and “sketchy man with bleached-blond hair.” Pattinson taps into the dark humor just enough to earn some laughs without undermining the ground-level seriousness of all the careless violence. He brings an edge of ruefulness to lines like “Don’t be confused, it’s just gonna make it worse for me,” suggesting that Connie might have some self-awareness underneath the split-second decisions and crazy gambits. He’s just utterly lost in terms of how to transfer his hustle into anything other than a hastily assembled escape plan. “I don’t know what to tell you!” he repeats at one point, frustrated with Ray’s objections to yet another seeming dead end. Connie isn’t especially articulate, but Pattinson tells us plenty.
Availability: Good Time is currently streaming on Netflix and Kanopy. It’s also available for rental or purchase from Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, YouTube, Microsoft, Redbox, Fandango, DirectTV, and VUDU.