You don’t need a list of why 2017 feels like the strangest year ever, but one of the lower stakes items you may have overlooked is that in 2017, the stars of Twilight are two of the best actors working. Kristen Stewart has been burning it up with her naturalistic performances in movies like Clouds of Sils Maria for a few years now, but with his basically unrecognizable performance in the Ben and Josh Safdie’s buzzed-about indie thriller, Good Time, the frenetic and bearded Robert Pattinson has officially arrived as well.
Ducking and weaving through every frame as Constantine “Connie” Nikas, Pattinson’s somewhat misguided, nervous urgency provides the fuel of the film, which he uses to drive through a story of deep, protective love for his developmentally disabled brother Nick (played by seemingly able-bodied co-director Ben, which given the horrible representation situation in cinema I’m not so sure on the politics of…). Tragically, Connie’s efforts to care for Nick can put him in danger—pulling him out of clearly-needed therapy, and enlisting his aid in a bank robbery to ostensibly get them both out of NYC, which kicks off the plot: Nick gets arrested, and Connie scrambles to get him out of jail.
Sometimes when you hear words like “transformed” or “unrecognizable,” you except a kind of over the top, self-consciously “ACTING!” performance, but again, like his Twilight co-star, Pattinson feels completely natural (were the people criticizing their stiltedness back then just misreading what were, in reality, naturalistic portrayals of stilted characters?). He pulls us through the Safdie’s vividly dingy, neon-lit New York, shot by go-to indie cinematographer Sean Price Williams (Queen of Earth, Marjorie Prime) with a mix of jittery long lenses and wide, hallucinatory glides, and a filmy color and grain that renders the present as if unearthing it from some older decade.
With small appearances by Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips), Jennifer Jason Leigh, Buddy Duress (back from the Safdie’s Heaven Knows What), and an especially great Taliah Webster as an extremely nonchalant 16-year old who gets embroiled in the whole thing, the city is filled with people as vibrant and unique as its images. Good Time’s biggest star of all, though, isn’t a person or a city—it’s the score from experimental electronic musician Oneohtrix Point Never, who assembles waves of arpeggiating, pulsating, throbbing synths that, unlike much of today’s self-consciously retro synthwave sound totally unique and modern (lookin’ at you, Stranger Things), and beg to be heard echoing through a booming theater, by a tense, edge-of-their-seat crowd.