Blood may be thicker than water, but the decisions we make in the name of those we love can often be the most misjudged.
In the heist thriller Good Time, low-level New York criminal Connie (Robert Pattinson) busts his mentally handicapped younger brother out of a psychiatric institution.
The extravagantly misguided display of fraternal love and loyalty segues into a botched bank robbery, and suddenly they’re on the run.
Filmmaking brothers Benny and Josh Safdie have been depicting the ragged edges of New York life in their films for over decade.
They’re known for bringing unknown faces into the spotlight, like Arielle Holmes, the star of their last film Heaven Knows What, about homeless drug addicts. But it turns out that Pattinson, who first approached them about working together, is a good fit.
The actor’s post-Twilight work with directors like David Cronenberg and James Gray proves he has taste, and the vividly scuffed, manic hustler he delivers in Good Time is the film’s compelling centre.
Ben Safdie, meanwhile, directs himself in a magnetic performance as Nick, the younger brother, wearing a hearing aid and talking in slow, hushed syllables.
Robert Pattinson and co-director Benny Safdie play Queens brothers and petty criminals. (Supplied: A24)
The pairing is stark in its contrasts, but it’s underpinned by an unmistakable tenderness and passionate devotion.
The story, written by Josh with frequent Safdies collaborator Ronald Bronstein, is about a fraternal bond that runs deep.
It’s a buddy movie, too, in the mould of Dog Day Afternoon or Midnight Cowboy — about small time dreamers dwarfed by an imposing, often callous city.
Electricity pulses through the film — amped by Daniel Lopatin’s grand slabs of retro-futurist synth — which also recalls the inventiveness and physicality of silent cinema comics like Buster Keaton.
The film is a frenetic portrait of Manhattan’s underground and anonymous residents. (Supplied: A24)
It’s a running, jumping and climbing kind of movie with a series of frying-pan-to-fire escalations, where vividly drawn secondary characters enter the frame as obstacles or unlikely allies, or both.
Most memorable are Jennifer Jason Leigh as Connie’s sometimes girlfriend, another down-and-out character living at home with her mother, and newcomer Taliah Webster’s African American teenager, who is almost a match for the brothers.
Cinematographer Sean Price Williams, working in lush 35mm film, avoids framing expansive New York streetscapes, and focuses instead on visual fragments that build a claustrophobic tension.
A door frame, the flare of a car headlight, a section of sidewalk viewed through traffic — the city is a striking abstraction, while human faces are detailed and distinctive.
The Safdies are too playful and too wary to get bogged down in earnest humanism, but their film’s up-close portrait of people who might otherwise be anonymous residents of New York’s lower depths is undeniably moving.
An early shot of Connie and Nick striding down ugly brick and concrete city streets, their cheeks red with cold as police sirens ring out, evokes the idea of a team against the world.
New York might belong to the powerful in Manhattan’s gleaming towers, but for two hours of frenzied, desperate action, the city belongs to these two brothers from Queens.