The Safdies’ last movie, Heaven Knows What, was a successful, but very flawed film. It didn’t have much of a plot; it simply followed a young heroin addict, beautifully played by Arielle Holmes, around for a few days. In Good Time, the Safdies have brought all of the things that most distinguish them and found a way to apply them to an emotionally effecting narrative. Robert Pattinson is basically unrecognizable as a New York thug desperate to bail out his developmentally disabled from a hellish jail. The film has the hallmarks of the Safdies: a punishing unsettling soundtrack, hurried documentary style camera work, naturalistic performance, strange pulsing visuals colors. This all adds up to an intensely immersive cinematic experience and it plays directly to the often pulse-pounding and incredibly suspenseful film noir narrative. As Pattinson’s character wanders the city over a single night, he crosses paths with a variety of striking characters as he struggles to find a way to do the right thing by his troubled brother. Pattinson is absolutely a chameleon in this movie; I don’t know if he’s the best young actor working today, but in terms of disappearing into a character, there’s probably not another one to match him. Co-director Benny Safdie is compelling and striking as Pattinson’s brother. Buddy Duress gives a genuinely star-making performance as a young man that crosses paths with Pattinson via a really bizarre plot twist. The way the film actually takes time out from the main story to let us in on his dilemma is surprising and effective. Taliah Webster is very good as an impressionable young girl that gets roped into Pattinson’s schemes and her last scene in the film is incredibly dark and sad. There’s a level of immersion to this film that really puts us in Pattinson’s shoes and the film is really about a way of life that’s entirely reactive. Heaven Knows What was similar in that it was also about people with no plan, people who only seek what they need at the moment: a soft place to sleep, a small amount of food, a bump from their drug of choice. Likewise, Pattinson never has time to really formulate anything approximating a plan; as he whizzes through these darkened streets, he seems, at every moment, to be doing the only thing he can do. There’s a gripping scene where he’s being pursued by the police and we see from above as he races through a labyrinth of concrete walls, literally boxed in, literally taking the only path he can – he’s been doing this metaphorically from almost the first moment of the film. It’s a movie, then, laden with a certain doomed grimness to it, though there are a lot of surprisingly funny moments. Good Time improves, in every area I found problematic, on Heaven Knows What and if that movie was gripping and compelling, this one is more so. I’d already accepted the Safdies as auteurs with a very personal, strange and unique cinematic vision; now they’re more than that – they’ve taken that vision and made a genuinely great movie. 4 stars.
tl;dr – striking crime thriller establishes Pattinson as an actor for the ages and the Safdies as true masters of cinema; immersive, intense and grim, it’s film noir for a new generation. 4 stars.