Good Time is a delectable paradox: it is one of 2017's most beautiful movies, despite only ever training its gaze on ugly things. I'm not quite sure how the filmmakers - director brothers Josh & Benny Safdie, cinematographer Sean Price Williams - managed it, but I certainly feel that I've been put on notice (and I'll most certainly be keeping my eyes open for Williams going forward; he's been popping up in the credits well-regarded tiny indies for a few years now, but this is only the first time I've seen something he shot). There's some alchemical reaction that happens here between the grottiest realism and hallucinatory colors that I haven't seen since Spring Breakers, and Good Time is vastly more persistent in its vivid, neon dreamscape than that film.

It's not absolutely clear to me that there's any distinct purpose to this beyond the creation of an overriding sensation of intensification. Good Time is more or less a long night of the soul movie, the kind where everything keeps getting worse and worse as it goes along, and with dawn comes the worst of it all. Specifically, it's the story of the Nikas brothers, Connie (Robert Pattinson) and Nick (Benny Safdie), who start the film by successfully robbing a bank in New York. While riding in their getaway car, they learn the hard way that a dye pack has been inserted into the money, and it explodes in a red cloud, coating both brothers in a glowing shade of magenta - this is not the first time that the film plays around with bold, hard colors, but it's the point where it clicked into place for me that this would definitely be a thing that would be happening as a major strategy. Certainly that fact that bright, unnatural color becomes a plot point is a sign hat this movie is up to something.

Long story short, Nick ends up in the hands of the cops, and Connie, worried about his brother (Nick has some unidentified psychological disability), spends the next several hours trying to figure out who he needs to exploit in order the raise bail money. There's really not a lot more to it than that, at the level of plot: just a tale of brotherly devotion among thieves, of a sort at least as old as the classic era of films noirs, and I would imagine older still than that, though perhaps not in cinematic form.

Two things distinguish Good Time from the pack. One of these I've mentioned: the astounding use of color. This is a bold, bright, shiny film about total squalor, with every surface that can reflect the brazen neon of the city at night doing so. And most of the surfaces that can't still seem to glow with their own internal light. The best example of this, though far from the only one, is Connie's ever-present red jacket, a splash of acute, bright color in the face of the filthy night that grows more desperate in its forced energy as Connie himself does. But I could name so very many things, objects or spaces or whole scenes where the frame is so drenched in bold, otherworldly color - electric greens and blues, or a neon lavender that covers Pattinson's face like a veil, making him look at once fleshier and also sickly. I called this "intensification", and then left it alone, so let me go into that a bit more: this is a kind of surreal fantasy version of the New York nightscapes of Taxi Driver or After Hours, or any number of other films (including some not directed by Martin Scorsese). Ostensibly, this is motivated by realism, but it's realism cranked up to the point of being almost unbearably overstimulating: it's a film whose visuals are about being too much aware of sensory inputs, and being alert to the colors and lighting of the spaces around to the point that it's almost painful (the same might be said of the score, by Oneohtrix Point Never; it's a bit too '80s besotted to work the way this film needs it to, I think, though I guess '80s culture is embedded in the film's DNA enough that it makes a kind of sense. At any rate, there's a whole lot of score, for good or ill).

The other point of distinction is Connie, and Pattinson's exquisite performance of  him - by 2017, I pray that nobody is still really surprised when he gives a good performance, but I still wasn't prepared for this much of a good performance. The film relies (overrelies, more like) on close-ups for the vast majority of its shots, so a lot of weight is all on Pattinson's performance, and he absolutely rises to the occasion. A lot of it is simply his eyes: he has a real good stare, where he can make the whites of his eyes turn giant and almost overwhelm the rest of his face, like some kind of anime character. As needed, this can connote anger, terror, or sadness (never anything positive; it's not a film with much in the way of happy emotions), all of it with the same horribly overwhelming intensity and inescapable feeling. Using close-ups like this is a dangerous game, and tricky to pull off, and the Safdies don't actually succeed at doing so, I don't think; there's a point where the film ceases to be claustrophobic and just becomes monotonous in its strict visual focus. Still, it it's going to work at all, it needs a committed actor, and Pattinson is that committed, wearing a litany of finely-graded expressions that splash across the screen, all while flawlessly working his way around a blue collar accent. Even when the film around him starts to spin its wheels, Pattinson never rests, always finding ways to reshape his face and body to evoke some new gradation of desperation.

I suppose there are a third and fourth point as well: the wall-to-wall close-ups are one of those. And the other, which I'm also not super keen about, is that Good Time is a deeply cruel, savage, severe movie. As it would have to be, with a title like that. The thing is, Connie is a deeply horrible man, and he knows it: it's fairly evident that much of what drives him during his long, awful night is that he feels guilty for having manipulated Nick into this situation. And so it takes a city's worth of subsequent manipulations for him to atone, in whatever fumbling way he can manage. The result is a film that spends most of its running time watching as a street-smart survivalist lying and abusing his way through people who might be able to do a little bit of good for him, in scenes that are distinctly powerful - Jennifer Jason Leigh's small role as Connie's older, but by no means wiser girlfriend have a particular sad magnificence about them - but, much like the close-ups, they grow monotonous along the way. There's only so many ways to watch a profoundly toxic human being in his toxicity before it feels like the movie is as much a prison as the one facing the characters. This isn't a flaw in the movie; it is, very much, it's point. But just because something's on purpose doesn't make it any more palatable or insightful. Whatever line separates brute honesty from mere sourness, Good Time spends too much time straddling it for my tastes.