A 'Good Time' for Robert Pattinson's Reinvention

In this film by the Safdie brothers, Pattinson plays Connie, the older brother of a mentally challenged young man who quietly idolizes his brother and would do anything to walk in his shadow — including standing next to him during a bank robbery.

Aug 23, 2017 at 10:52 am
click to enlarge Pattinson’s Good Time character operates on feral passion. - Photo: Courtesy of A24
Photo: Courtesy of A24
Pattinson’s Good Time character operates on feral passion.

All that glitters… well, forget that old saying, because in Good Time, from the brothers Safdie (Josh and Benny), there isn’t a single frame of glitz or glam, which says quite a bit considering that Twilight heartthrob Robert Pattinson takes center stage for a significant amount of the film’s running time. 

Pattinson plays Connie, the older brother of Nick (Benny Safdie), a mentally challenged young man who quietly idolizes his brother and would do anything to walk in his shadow. Connie grabs Nick from therapy and cajoles him into standing next to him during a bank robbery that’s short on planning and full of desperation. Complications ensue. Pattinson’s Connie operates on pure feral passion, which simply won’t get him far in the urban jungle. At some point, the brutal rules of civilization become will harsher than the natural order.

It is truly fascinating to watch the transformation of Pattinson, the brooding matinee idol who sparkled like some Rihanna stone opposite Kristen Stewart in the disjointed film adaptations of the Stephenie Meyer YA-vampires-and-werewolves-in-love-and-war franchise. Now, he’s prowling in unfamiliar terrain, like a newly sprung panther. 

Stewart also has found a way to throw off the yoke of early-age stardom — she had started out as a child actor in David Fincher’s Panic Room alongside child-star alumna Jodie Foster. 

Pattinson already has been in some edgy movies geared toward the art/indie market like David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis and Map to the Stars and this year’s The Lost City of Z from director James Gray. But maybe for the first time in his movies, he completely disappears inside Connie, perhaps because the character doesn’t rely on reminding us that Pattinson is the famous face representing this wounded figure. Connie isn’t some good kid with a future turned bad; he’s an immigrant kid without hope or understanding of the American Dream. His life, his very world, is nothing but the underbelly, the underneath where there’s no beauty or sweetness to be found.

You don’t need a pretty face to play this role, just dark dead eyes and a sense of movement — a headlong propulsion forward toward the trap of the future that’s waiting. And Pattinson brings that sense of abandon. He doesn’t have the calculation of a performer announcing that he’s “making a transition.” This isn’t intended to be part of his show reel for his next starring role in some comic book-based franchise, nor is it an audition for a slot as a romantic icon. Pattinson is just Connie caught up in a big dumb scheme reacting to every bad move and decision with another worse choice.

He’s not going ugly like Charlize Theron in Monster, or pushing the limits of his body like Robert De Niro in Raging Bull. Pattinson weasels into himself, into that dark heart that we all have but rarely ever stare at in the mirror, because who but the worst among us would want to acknowledge the base evil that we might possess but have locked away? 

When I spoke with the Safdies by phone, Benny talked about how they wanted not just Connie, but all of the characters, to be real. “These people exist, so you’re watching it, but also you’re feeling that there are real stakes and consequences,” Benny says. “And it feels like at any moment the cops could bust in. You’re in that moment.” 

Further into the discussion, Josh mentions the idea where “character and genre become one thing” in Good Time, much like in such quirky thrillers of the 1970s and ’80s as Dog Day Afternoon and After Hours. “We were making a movie at the pace of the main character, and with his mindset,” he says. “You’re getting your information when you need to get it — not beforehand. So, you learn about the brothers’ relationship just by seeing them interact.”

That notion encapsulates our experiences with Connie and his own limited understanding of his life and situation. There’s no need or time for self-reflection. He never pauses long enough to reconsider. He reacts, and Pattinson seems to relish the freedom this grants him. It is not just a Good Time for Pattinson, but a perfect moment for genre and movie stars (and directors like the Safdies) to explore new possibilities. (Opens Friday at the Esquire Theatre.) (R) Grade: A

CONTACT TT STERN-ENZI: [email protected]