Herzog to Anton Corbijn, and how he’s played everybody from hedonistic billionaires to emotionally numbed limousine drivers to fashion photographers who knew James Dean back in the day. He’s even gotten bad haircuts a couple of times to show the world that he really is that dedicated.
But the trouble is is that these collabs and performances haven’t really helped Pattinson garner the lasting indie cred on which he’s been so desperate to get his dirty paws for the last half-decade. The Cronenberg movies, Cosmopolis (2012) and Maps to the Stars (2015), underwhelmed, the Herzog feature tanked, and the Corbijn film prompted more scoffs than praises. (At least he’s doing better than the 12-abbed Taylor Lautner, who’s speeding up his possibly being added to future “Where Are They Now” lists by starring in DOA direct-to-video features and Adam Sandler-supported dung heaps.)
I suppose it’s out of fashion to even be bringing up Twilight, Stewart, or even Lautner here: all are part of a past from which Pattinson’s clearly trying to move away. But seeing that he hasn’t made a movie that’s garnered much buzz since the days when he was regularly pretending to court a certain Miss Swan, and seeing that Stewart herself is currently finding success in the type of career Pattinson so badly wants for himself, such seems a relevant tangent to embark upon before even getting to the main point.
But here’s the thing: 2017 just might be the year that changes things for Pattinson. Consider that he’s starred in not one but two critically acclaimed movies (The Lost City of Z, Good Time) that’ve been both featured on year-end best-of listicles and complementary toward this ever-hungry actor’s trying to show off his artistic coat of many colors. Judging by his roguish resilience in Z and his greaseball intensity in Good Time, he’s suddenly looking like a successful working actor like Ethan Hawke, or a young Al Pacino. Such a claim might seem exaggerative, but watch Pattinson in Good Time – written and directed by Ben and Josh Safdie, who’re basically the same as the Dardenne brothers if they liked neon and fun – and stunned might be the sensation most felt. All the comparisons to Dog Day Afternoon (1975) that have proliferated these last few months are earned. In Pattinson’s Pacino-esque performance and in Good Time in general do we have a product of unrestrained, sweating intensity. Pattinson’s a pitch-perfect ne’er-do-well; the movie’s an unrelenting caper gone sour that obsessively asks, “what more could go wrong?.” It’s thrilling.
Even when it somehow manages to drag in certain parts of its otherwise zippy 100 minutes (the third act wanders, for instance), Good Time feels like a breakthrough. A breakthrough for Pattinson in that it finally gives him an opportunity to both let loose and show the world that he is, in fact, an undeniably skilled master of his craft. A breakthrough for the Safdie brothers in that it highlights their impressive ability to connect the cinematic with the realistic and come out with a product that looks and feels an awful lot like flashier-than-usual Cassavetes for the modern age. Because it sees an actor come into his own and because it sees filmmakers so directly defy the norm technically and artistically, it makes for one of 2017’s most essential films.
Not a moment in Good Time goes by in which we aren’t certain that everything’s about to go flying off the rails. In the movie, Pattinson stars as Connie, a moronic small-time criminal who, as the film opens, enlists his mentally challenged brother Nick (Ben Safdie) to help him rob a New York bank.
As expected, all starts going down the shitter just moments after the siblings leave the institution they think they’ve just duped. The teller slips a dye pack which almost immediately explodes in the bag holding the money. A chase eventually ensues between the cops and the brothers, with Nick caught right off the bat. Connie can’t get his hands on enough money to pay Nick’s bail. And so on. You can guarantee the ending won’t be happy (though it’s fortunately not nearly as nihilistic as it could be). All this might sound like a handful caper tropes spread out on a page, as if the Safdies disassembled their favorite genre movies and then rearranged the characteristics they liked the most. But Good Time is a great deal fresher than that, in part because it feels grittier than an average movie proclaiming to be a slice of life might. The morals are unsteady, the characters difficult to like, the decisions and motivations misguided and sometimes idiotic. Connie’s a fuck-up and so is everyone else he lets into his life. After some time our breaths metamorphose into defeated sighs.
Executed with the same romanticism of a more lighthearted caper film like, say, Topkapi (1964) or The Hot Rock (1972), Good Time wouldn’t work – it’d be a try-hard crime carnival whose showcasing of character flaws might make it appear to be a tone deaf excursion that’s supposed to be frothy. But with the movie the Safdies channel the thoughts and actions of everyday criminals. There are a hell of a lot more imbeciles like Connie trying to rob banks in the world than there are turtlenecked glamourpusses who just so happen to like stealing things à la Steve McQueen in The Thomas Crown Affair (1968) or Peter O’Toole in How to Steal a Million (1966). So because it so much seems to be taking place in the sort of world in which you or I might also be paying rent – the scenery is always changing, the world always unforgiving – anything that might be described as “unlikable” or “doomed” in Good Time just helps boost the realism. We’re kept on our toes, and that’s one of the many things I like about it.
But Pattinson, expectedly, tops my personalized “most-liked” things in Good Time. Purportedly, Pattinson was the one who got the film kickstarted; he liked the Safdies’ previous work so much that he stressed his wanting to work with them during a period in which they had no tentative plans to make a movie. That enthusiasm shines through. This is a performance so good it threatens to incinerate the screen. Pattinson's so committed in his portrayal of this selfish screwball that we can’t help but side with the deplorable him just because he so fiercely brings this scummy individual to life. Here we see a facet of the actor that’s until now been left untouched. It’s one of the year’s best performances.
And Good Time is one of the year’s best movies. It's a difficult, morally unsteady crime feature so firmly rooted in its own kind of twisted sort of reality that we can’t help but take to the way both Pattinson and the Safdies so ferociously help develop its intoxicating world. Recognition upon Oscar time is doubtful. But stranger things have happened: just five years ago, no one might have thought Pattinson’d be giving an award-worthy performance in a risk-taking movie. And here we are. A-
Jennifer Jason Leigh
1 Hr., 39 Mins.
Good Time December 28, 2017
ver since the Twilight saga (2008-'12) and his relationship with K. Stew ended, Robert Pattinson’s been trying to prove himself as an actor capable of doing stuff a cut above teenage lore. One who, like Daniel Day-Lewis or ’90s-era Brad Pitt, is unafraid of a daunting role, a legendary director. The proof is in the pudding that is his post-Edward filmography: just look at the way he’s worked with greats from David Cronenberg (twice!) to Werner