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Robert Pattinson leads Benny Safdie on a run from the authorities in "Good Time."

While us film critics are busy writing up the glittering success that Kristen Stewart has had after the Twilight series (and yes, that includes me), it’s worth noting that Robert Pattinson is making efforts to become a real actor, too, teaming up with established veteran directors like David Cronenberg (Maps to the Stars) and up-and-comers like David Michôd (The Rover). He has never been more convincing than in the hellish and gritty New York City crime thriller Good Time, which comes out in Tarrant County theaters this weekend.

He plays Constantine Nikas, a small-time thug from a tortured background in Queens with a mentally handicapped brother named Niklas (played by co-director Benny Safdie). When we first see them, Connie is pulling Nick out of a therapy session to help him rob a bank. As they’re driving away, the dye pack that the teller included in the cash explodes and covers them in red dye, and the for the rest of the movie, everything goes downhill. Nick is caught and sent to Rikers Island, where Connie knows he’ll be a sitting duck.

Benny Safdie is half of a directing team with his brother Josh, and the brothers gained some exposure two years ago with their commendable heroin-addiction drama Heaven Knows What. They have a feel for the seedy underbelly of New York that often mixes with the city’s richer side when it’s least expected. The Safdies build up a remorseless momentum as Connie spends a frantic night and morning trying to break Nick out of a hospital (where he’s being kept after a prison beatdown) and trying to come up with cash. We never learn why the brothers were trying to rob the bank in the first place, but Connie’s need for money drives everything he does. An early scene in a bail bondsman’s office where Connie tries to deal with a hard-edged bondsman (Eric Paykert) and his own emotionally unstable girlfriend (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is a convincing evocation of hell.

So single-minded is Connie in his determination to rescue his brother that he barely notices the collateral damage he inflicts on everybody else he runs across, including a 16-year-old girl (Taliah Webster) in whose house he hides to an amusement park security guard (Barkhad Abdi) where Connie goes at night to find a stashed bag of cash. This whole thing might have worked better at shorter than its 100-minute running time, but watching Connie get destroyed by his attachment to his brother and his own incessant hustling and crackbrained scheming makes Good Time into an undeniably riveting spectacle.

Good Time

Starring Robert Pattinson and Benny Safdie. Directed by Benny and Josh Safdie. Written by Josh Safdie and Ronald Bronstein. Rated R.

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