In recent years, the British heartthrob Robert Pattinson has gone out of his way to prove that there is life after Twilight. After years spent playing a shimmery, chivalrous vampire, he went all dark and dystopian in art-house chillers like The Rover and Cosmopolis, and he recently popped up in a terrific supporting role in The Lost City of Z. But Pattinson has never undergone a transformation as revelatory as the one he pulls off in Good Time, a nerve-rattling new thriller from the sibling directors Josh and Benny Safdie.
Pattinson plays Connie Nikas, a scuzzy, small-time crook from Queens who saunters through much of the movie sporting a gray hoodie, diamond stud earrings and cheap blond dye job. He is somehow both a catastrophically inept criminal and a quick-thinking improvisational genius, a master at getting himself out of one hair-raising situation only to plunge himself immediately into another.
Connie's undoing, as well as his sole redeeming quality, is his love for his hearing-impaired, mentally disabled brother, Nick, played — in a brief but galvanizing performance — by Ben Safdie, doing a nice job of directing himself. We first meet Nick when he is undergoing a psychiatric evaluation, and his gruff, one-line responses to the therapist's questions are a heartbreaking testimony to years of family neglect and abuse.
Connie has suffered the effects of that mistreatment as well, but as played with agitated live-wire intensity by Pattinson, he has clearly chosen to rebel rather than buckle under. Shortly after dragging Nick out of that evaluation, Connie makes him his accomplice in a shockingly clumsy bank robbery, played out with a mixture of tension, dread and dark humor that twists your stomach in knots. As they flee the bank, you can sense Connie's protectiveness toward Nick, even though it was foolish to endanger him in the first place.