In the early minutes of Josh and Benny Safdie's Good Time, we meet Nick Nikas (Benny Safdie), a sullen young man who clearly suffers from some kind of intellectual disability, as he's being quizzed by a kindly mental-health practitioner. Nick wears a hearing aid. His words come slowly--his pillowy lips can barely form them--and his eyes seem shut off from the world. When the shrink asks Nick what first comes to mind when he hears the words "scissors and a cooking pan," his answer--as easy to read as a street sign--is, "You can hurt yourself with both." Nick needs real help, but he's not going to get it from his bad-apple brother Connie (Robert Pattinson), who manipulates Nick even as he protects him. The two are entwined in a figurative headlock of dependence and twisted affection. It's a power struggle neither can bust out of.
The Safdie brothers' fourth fiction feature is partly a study of dysfunctional brotherhood, partly a gritty-funny New York City crime caper. If you can tolerate the Safdies' fondness for extreme closeups--the picture is shot largely in a mode I like to call Blackhead Theater--Good Time offers plenty of sweaty suspense laced with a few bittersweet laughs. But Pattinson is the real reason to see it: his Connie, wiry and intense, with beady, cracked-out eyes, is the kind of guy you'd cross the street to avoid. But by the movie's end, you realize that his desperation veils a rush of longing. For what? Pattinson plays Connie as a guy who just doesn't know--and that not knowing dogs him like a silent, persistent ghost.