For a long time, Robert Pattinson was known to most as moody, sparkly vampire Edward Cullen from the enduringly lucrative“Twilight” series. Since his initial ascent, the prodigiously talented London-born actor has gone on to work with directors as challenging and interesting as James Gray, Claire Denis, Werner Herzog, and the Safdie Brothers – which is not to mention collaborations with the likes of Ciro Guerra, Antonio Campos, and none other than Christopher Nolan looming on the horizon. It now feels safe to say that we can finally put the YA-friendly comparisons that marked Pattinson’s early career to bed once and for all.
One of the advantages of the level of stardom that Pattinson has attained is that he now has a sizable legion of die-hard fans that will follow him wherever he goes, even to projects as potentially divisive as “Cosmopolis” or “Good Time.” The drawback is that there are, unfortunately, certain narrow-minded folks who will dictate what Pattinson should or should not do based on the degree of his celebrity (see, for instance, the internet dispute that occurred as a result of Pattinson being cast as Bruce Wayne in Matt Reeves’ upcoming, purportedly noir-ish “The Batman,” set to hit theaters on June 25, 2021).
What’s beyond dispute is the level of sheer, raw talent that Pattinson possesses. He’s worked with some of the most interesting directors in the business and completely revamped his movie-star image as a result of doing work that often challenges and confounds his loyal audience. With that in mind, here is a look at ten of Pattinson’s finest performances to date – we’re sure there will be many more to come, so maybe we can run this list again in 2022 and see how it looks. Enjoy!
Give David Cronenberg credit where credit is due: he was one of the first major directors to see potential in Robert Pattinson by casting him as a loathsome, borderline-reptilian New York money man in the ice-cold “Cosmopolis.” Cronenberg’s heartless social satire is an interpretation of Don DeLillo’s postmodern novel of the same name, and it’s not hard to guess why there are no other existing adaptations of the author’s work (although an update of his classic “White Noise” is rumored to be in development). DeLillo’s prose is both foreboding and intimidating: a mélange of doomy prophesizing that can seem daunting on the page and often sounds downright inscrutable coming out of the mouths of movie characters. As such, the individuals in “Cosmopolis” speak in cryptic, elliptical riddles. They almost never sound like real people – most of the time, they sound like mouthpieces for the ideas of a brilliant scribe. Still, while “Cosmopolis” isn’t exactly Cronenberg’s finest hour, Pattinson is nevertheless arresting. His performance is an exercise in tampered-down minimalism. To his credit, he never once tries to turn avarice-fueled asset manager Eric Packer into a flesh-and-blood human being. Instead, the character exists as a vessel for his appetites: capital, greed, and sex, in roughly that order. A few other characters warily orbit Packer, and they possess more of a pulse – Jay Baruchel’s sardonic finance bro, Juliette Binoche’s kinky art consultant, and Paul Giamatti’s unbalanced hermit/psycho, to name a few – but even these relatively measured performances serve to underline what a fine job Pattinson does at withholding. “Cosmopolis” may leave non-Cronenberg devotees scratching their heads, but it’s worth watching for Pattinson’s performance alone.
David Michôd’s “The Rover” is a film that’s almost as barren and alienating as the unforgiving post-apocalyptic landscape in which it unfolds. Even by the typically severe standards of these sorts of stories, this is one tough movie – which is possibly why critics and audiences didn’t warm up to it as much as they did to Michôd’s harrowing but mostly accessible breakthrough picture, “Animal Kingdom.” At the center of the movie is a feral Guy Pearce, playing Eric: a bitter, broken-down loner who has lost everything in the wake of some vague worldwide collapse. When the film begins, Eric is merely looking for his car, although we come to find out that he’s actually looking for a lot more than that. During his search, Eric stumbles unto the path of Rey (Pattinson), a none-too-bright degenerate whose brother is part of a pack of criminals responsible for the vehicular theft at the center of the story. Pattinson plays Rey as borderline-mentally impaired: he’s a simple, almost childlike figure whose relative innocence in this trauma-plagued outback hellscape is genuinely disarming. Pattinson’s performance is full of odd, admirable choices, including but not limited to his 8th-grader buzz-cut, his ’90s skater-boy wardrobe, and his slurred, sometimes-indecipherable speech. He and Pearce make quite a duo, with Pattinson acting as a tragically human second banana to Pearce’s increasingly violent and barbarous protagonist. Pattinson is nothing short of heartbreaking in his final scene, which all but screams “I’m not the ‘Twilight’ guy anymore!!” This is also arguably one of the first examples of Pattinson working with a great, under-the-radar indie director and using his star power to help get a difficult project off the ground.
“Maps to the Stars”
“Maps to the Stars” showcases a scabrous procession of psychos, sycophants, and unapologetic grotesques. It’s one of the most disgusting movies David Cronenberg has ever made, which is curious when you consider that it doesn’t feature nearly as much body horror as, say, “Videodrome.” While it’s not exactly the director’s most elegant work, “Maps” gets points for bravery – there is seemingly no taboo the film isn’t willing to violate. While Julianne Moore enjoys one of her most batshit-insane roles to date playing a ruthlessly superficial and desperately insecure over-the-hill actress, it’s Pattinson’s winking self-awareness that often brings this very out-there movie back into our solar system. In other words, he makes the most of a minor but memorable part in the great director’s house of Hollywood horrors. In a film full of mega-celebrities or people who are yearning to be mega-celebrities, there’s a perverse irony in casting one of cinema’s most recognizable leading men as the David Cronenberg equivalent of an average working stiff. Pattinson plays Jerome: a chauffeur who is, of course, working on his own material when he’s not shepherding the rich and famous around town (ironic, when you consider that Pattinson spent the entirety of “Cosmopolis” as the passenger and not the driver). Though he enjoys a very Cronenbergian sexual tryst with Moore’s character in the back of his limousine, many of Pattinson’s more ingeniously queasy scenes involve his creepy interactions with Mia Wasikowska’s enigmatic burn victim Agatha Weiss, who may very well be a visitor from another dimension. “Maps to the Stars” is most certainly not for everyone, but there’s no denying that Pattinson gives another original and expertly observed performance, deftly sharing the screen with his more established co-stars in a fashion that betrays his movie star bonafides.
“The Childhood of a Leader”
It takes a skilled actor to make an impression in a movie where they appear for less than fifteen minutes of total screentime. Lucky for us, Robert Pattinson is that kind of actor. Pattinson is barely in Brady Corbet’s nervy formalist period piece “The Childhood of a Leader,” but within the fleeting scenes in which he appears, he strikes a forceful note that perfectly compliments the funereal mood of Corbet’s directorial debut. “Childhood of a Leader” is the story of a fascist sociopath-in-training that takes place during the earlier half of this past century. Like “Vox Lux,” Corbet’s head-spinning pop music freakout from last year, “Childhood” is an insidious glimpse at a period of historical transition, in addition to being a perverse distortion of how a typical costume drama should play out. Pattinson plays Charles Maker: a dashing high-society type first seen shooting pool in a dimly lit game room and chewing languidly on Corbet’s era-appropriate argot. Though the film is ultimately about Tom Sweet’s dead-eyed junior despot, Pattinson makes a meal out of the short amount of screentime he’s afforded (which is curious, considering he’s indisputably the biggest name in the cast). He deftly acclimates to the epoch in which Corbet’s twisted tale is set, visibly enjoying a meaty supporting part in a film that is not short on impressive performers. “Childhood of a Leader” is an undeniably academic movie with a subzero tonal temperature but it’s also a fascinating breakout for Corbet, and Pattinson is indisputably one of the more memorable things about it.
“Life” is a transfixing failure of a movie – an attractively put-together, thoroughly hermetic anti-biopic that showcases two mesmerizing lead performances in a story that ultimately goes nowhere. Still, if “Life” mostly goes nowhere, it goes nowhere beautifully. The film was directed by revered rock n’ roll photographer and music video whiz Anton Corbijn, whose films are always gorgeous to look at, even when their various narrative pieces don’t fit together. “Life” is a jagged glimpse of celebrity alienation in midcentury America, anchored by two turns that carry the film even when Corbijn and screenwriter Luke Davies (“Lion”) fail to do the same. Dane DeHaan arguably has the more difficult part: he plays silver screen icon James Dean, whom we see glumly obligating to the press tour for Elia Kazan’s 1955 milestone “East of Eden.” And while DeHaan is often effortlessly convincing as Dean, it’s Pattinson who provides the film with a sobering dramatic anchor. He plays Life Magazine photographer Dennis Stock, who ends up trailing Dean on his media junket and developing a curious relationship with the star that is by turns fraternal and strangely ambiguous. In a career of recklessly swinging for the proverbial fences (“Good Time,” “Damsel”), this is one of Pattinson’s quieter and reserved turns. He turns Stock into a believably complicated human being (which is important when the other lead in the movie is, y’know, James Dean). “Life” doesn’t totally hang together as a movie, but it’s worth checking out for the acting and the formidable style factor.
“The Lost City of Z”
In 2017, much was made of the fact that director James Gray actually managed to get a genuinely terrific performance out of Charlie Hunnam, who is better known for playing wooden tough guys in the likes of “Sons of Anarchy” and Guy Ritchie’s “King Arthur” flick than he is for his versatility. While Hunnam is undeniably great in Gray’s contemplative and criminally underrated period adventure, it’s Pattinson who ultimately gives the weirder, more watchable performance. While Hunnam strikes a traditionally heroic pose playing controversial British explorer Percy Fawcett – one could imagine someone like Douglas Fairbanks doing this if they decided to make this movie a century or so ago – Pattinson is doing his bizarre, mumbly, recessive character acting thing here, and he’s an absolute joy to watch. Pattinson plays Henry Costin: a British Corporal and Fawcett’s aide de camp who accompanies him on a series of life-endangering missions that test both men’s physical and mental endurance. He’s particularly superb in his final scene, where he tells Fawcett that he can no longer bear the considerable emotional cost of their many sojourns together. While Hunnam is one of those handsome, confident leading men whom the camera adores, it takes real skill to turn in a supporting performance like the one Pattinson gives us here. Considering that Gray’s tale here is classical in just about every way, Pattinson’s acting in “Lost City of Z” is often shockingly modern, though he’s always of a piece with the film that surrounds him. To consider that he transitioned from this film to the Safdie Brothers’ “Good Time” (up next) is basically unthinkable, albeit in the best possible way.
Among other things, Robert Pattinson is an indisputably handsome man: an actor who possesses the kind of enviable facial features and screen presence that distinguished many silent movie actors and classic villains from the golden age of cinema. So it’s a testament to Josh and Benny Safdie, the New York underground filmmakers known for their sympathetic and propulsive chronicles of junkies, scammers, diamond hustlers, deadbeat dads, and other societal bottom-feeders, that they managed to make Pattinson as ugly as they did in “Good Time” (the brothers have allegedly managed a similar feat with Adam Sandler in their acclaimed upcoming Diamond District crime-comedy “Uncut Gems”). It’s not just the grimy blonde dye job, pawnshop earrings, and regrettable goatee either: as Connie Nikas, a quick-on-his-feet Queens-born con artist who has a habit of taking already-unfortunate situations and making them unthinkably worse, Pattinson’s very soul seems rotten. Connie is one of the least appealing lead characters to grace a movie screen in forever, so it’s a testament to Pattinson’s innate skill as a performer that we kind of like Connie and even find ourselves rooting for him at times… even when we really, really shouldn’t. Over the course of “Good Time,” Connie lands his well-meaning, developmentally disabled brother in Riker’s Island for a bank robbery he masterminded, assaults an African-American security guard, makes out with an underage girl, and lets his mush-brained criminal pal Ray (a scene-stealing Buddy Duress) take the fall for his many unpardonable transgressions. And yet, as scummy as Connie is – and he is that – Pattinson adroitly conveys the all-too-human desperation coursing beneath this loser’s sweat-coated surface. It’s an absolute knockout of a performance, in an underworld masterwork that’s more human and enduring than what we tend to see in this shopworn genre.
Oddball Westerns are nothing new in the greater cinematic canon, whether it be the hypnotic Gothic fancy of “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,” or Jim Jarmusch’s classic acid Western “Dead Man,” with its doom-laden Neil Young score and sorrowful motifs of white colonization and psychedelic exploration. At first glance, it’s tempting to assess “Damsel” – an undeniably original and mostly insufferable arthouse oater – and assume that it belongs to this same strange lineage. Sadly, “Damsel,” written and directed by indie sibling filmmakers David and Nathan Zellner, is a movie that never really comes together. It’s mannered instead of being original, substituting strained quirkiness for genuine substance. That said, Pattinson’s performance is unquestionably the best thing about it. Pattinson creates an undeniably unique protagonist in the form of “Damsel’s” supercilious dandy “hero,” Samuel Alabaster. Samuel is the kind of hyper-effeminate would-be cowboy who takes dainty sips from a shot glass full of whiskey because he insists that he’s got a sensitive stomach. He’s grating, sure, but he’s also the hero we’re stuck with. When first we meet him, Alabaster is riding into a dusty saloon town with his mare – an adorable, pint-sized baby horse named Butterscotch – in tow. He claims, to anyone who will listen, that he is on a mission to rescue the love of his life (that would be Mia Wasikowska’s Penelope, her name a subtle ode to Homer’s “Odyssey”) from a pair of dastardly brothers who have kidnapped her and are holding her against her will. Where the Zellner’s film goes from there has to be seen to be believed, but Pattinson does his damndest to carry this wonky film to the finish line. “Damsel” only works in fits and starts, but it’s also a showcase for yet another splendid, left-of-center turn from Pattinson, who gives the movie his all by committing to his character’s pitiable delusions.
Pattinson’s turn in “High Life” is notable for many reasons, one of them being that Claire Denis’ vexing, nightmarish, and exhaustively hypnotic sci-fi tone poem marks the first time that the former “Twilight” heartthrob has ever played a father. One of the first things we see in “High Life” is Pattinson’s forlorn convict Monte interacting with a newborn infant: teaching it how to walk, imploring it to stop crying, warning it against eating its own fecal matter, etc. This deceptively affectionate introduction does little to prepare us for the onslaught of dread, assault, bad sex, worse vibes, and general cosmic malaise that is to follow. However, it does give us a crucial glimpse into who this man is, and what may have brought him to this terrible place when the film begins. “High Life” is filled with unusual human specimens – Juliette Binoche’s sinister, fertility-obsessed doctor, Andre Benjamin’s cool-headed horticulturalist, Mia Goth’s feral prisoner – but Pattinson provides this admittedly very strange movie with a necessary emotional core. There’s no theatrical gloating in his performance, which grows increasingly human as the movie marches towards the haunting oblivion of its unshakeable final sequence. In a film that prefers nonlinear visual storytelling to deadly-dull exposition (the former being a Denis staple), Pattinson’s face – which is one of the great faces in modern movies – does a lot of the heavy lifting. His ghostly visage registers a plethora of emotions: shame, regret, hardened stoicism and, towards the end, reluctant hope for whatever comes after the fall. This is all another way of saying that Pattinson’s next collaboration with the great French director is something we’re very much looking forward to.