The Big Money Story with "Good Time" is Robert Pattinson, the film's star -- how much more worthy and talented he is than the tedious stiff who co-starred with Kristen Stewart in all that "Twilight" hoo-ha. No argument from me about Pattinson. It's always nice when a real actor stands up to be counted among his real peers, even though his movies are already up to their clavicles in box office dough.
But that's not what got my blood pumping all the way through "Good Time." This is such a street grunge crime movie that it's in a great grubby film tradition, most of it set, as "Good Time" is, in New York. These are movies where you can practically smell the less welcome street aromas in major cities as you watch.
In other words, it's in the tradition of Jerry Schatzberg's "Panic in Needle Park," the movie that gave us Al Pacino, and "Dog Day Afternoon," the masterful film that let him expand on it. And "After Hours," Martin Scorsese's hallucinatory night in New York starring Griffin Dunne. And "Straight Time," their L.A. brother, the toughest and most interesting film of Dustin Hoffman's career in which he plays a loser even Theresa Russell can't help.
This is a movie loaded with cinema verite--with the wobble of hand-held cameras and their capture of details thoroughly incidental--indeed irrelevant-- to the story. This is "No Money" New York where the losers live in hopes of a big score.
We start off with a mentally challenged brother Nick -- played by Benny Safdie, one of the ultra-sharp co-directing brothers--who is being questioned by a psychiatrist trying to determine just how challenged he is. His older brother Connie (Pattinson) appears, disgusted and angry that is brother is being humiliated by being asked to explain phrases he never heard before and is being picked apart for medical reasons neither brother understands.
This is a whole different Pattinson from all this big-dough movies where he was an appealing lump on a log. This guy's an actor, thank heaven, who is richly capable of the ambiguity that connects one minute to the sleazeball within and the next to the loving and protective brother he's pretending to be.
That's because he isn't actually protecting his brother at all but rather, is in deep need of his intellectually defective services to pull off a very poorly planned bank robbery.
The robbery doesn't go well, to put it mildly. So we follow the brothers through a grungy, sick and menacing New York where things never look remotely glamorous. ("Breakfast at Tiffany's" is another universe.) We follow Nik to Riker's Island, to a hospital where Connie springs him. Connie tries to get financial help to bail out his brother but no one who knows Connie is giving her any.
If they can sell a jar of LSD, maybe they can get the money they need to bail out the brother whom birth did no favors. Chief among Nik's deficiencies in life is the fact that his brother is a morally deficient sleazeball.
This plays out in a frantic version of something like real time where the grime-centric Safdie Brothers, Benny and Josh, make sure a feeling of claustrophobic peril never leaves the audience.
The great New York street loser movie is, of course, "Dog Day Afternoon," where losers, in their way, triumph. "Good Time" isn't even close to that but this is a movie whose ragtag, low-budget high-velocity ugliness is, in every particular, all to the good.
Hoffman made part of his early reputation playing losers and scum. So did Pacino. Pattinson just took his first baby steps in that direction.
He's no Pacino or Hoffman but he's more than good enough opting for a performance from their playbook.
We spend the film feeling oh-so-superior to the two hopelessly inept brothers. Until the ending comes along and asks just who's superior to whom. A tough question as the Safdie brothers present it.
3.5 stars (out of 4 stars)
Robert Pattinson, Benny Safdie, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Taliah Webster in the Safdie Brothers' tale of a bank robbery that only gets worse as the cops bear down on the brothers who committed the crime. 100 minutes. (Rated R for language, violence, drugs and sex. 100 minutes).