You have to go back into the vaults — maybe as far back as “Dog Day Afternoon” — to find a movie about a New York bank robber more intense than Benny and Josh Safdie’s ironically titled drama “Good Time.”
In their fifth film as co-directors, the Safdie brothers follow two brothers trying for a quick score in Brooklyn. Constantine Nikas (Robert Pattinson) and his mentally challenged brother, Nick (played by Benny Safdie), have a plan — hatched by Constantine, aka Connie — to get $65,000 in a simple robbery and hop into a friend’s town car for the getaway.
The robbery goes smoothly enough, but the getaway doesn’t. A dye pack goes off in the loot bag, filling the car with red dust and a noxious odor. The driver crashes the car, and Connie and Nick have to walk — or run, when police see them and get suspicious. Nick gets arrested and thrown into Riker’s Island, New York’s infamous jail.
Connie scrambles to find an out for his brother. He asks his needy girlfriend, Corey (Jennifer Jason Leigh), to max out her mom’s credit cards to post Nick’s bond. Later, when he learns Nick has been roughed up in Riker’s and sent to the hospital, Connie maneuvers to get him past the police guards and into a patients’ shuttle — but things don’t work exactly as planned.
The script (by Josh Safdie and Ronald Bronstein, who also worked on the brothers’ “Heaven Knows What”) sends Connie into the New York night in a desperate attempt to help Nick, no matter whom he has to harm in the process. Among those he encounters are a just-paroled drug dealer (Buddy Duress) with a stash of LSD, a teen (Taliah Webster) who gives him shelter, and a security guard (Barkhad Abdi, from “Captain Phillips”) who finds something amiss in his amusement park.
Josh Safdie and Bronstein are also the film’s editors, and they — along with cinematographer Sean Price Williams — deliver a movie that steeps in New York grit and neon and moves to the frenetic beat of Connie’s conniving heart.
Though the supporting cast — notably Benny Safdie as the bearish Nick — is lively, Pattinson’s go-for-broke performance is a revelation. The actor has tried to step away from his pretty-boy “Twilight” image, working with director David Cronenberg (“Cosmopolis,” “Maps to the Stars”) or deglamorizing himself in “The Lost City of Z.” Here, he shows the skill to change his face and mood with quicksilver rapidity, as Connie battles to rescue himself from the impossible situation in which he’s trapped.
Pattinson’s electrifying performance has shades of Al Pacino’s turn in “Dog Day Afternoon,” particularly in that New York trait of plowing headlong into disaster while maintaining a façade that he’s got it all under control. Connie may not have control of his life, but Pattinson and the Safdie brothers take firm control of this propulsive movie.
* * * 1/2
Robert Pattinson gives a stellar performance as a bank robber who has to think fast to get out of trouble.
Where • Broadway Centre Cinemas.
When • Opens Friday, Aug. 25.
Rating • R for language throughout, violence, drug use and sexual content.
Running time • 100 minutes.