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The Best Robert Pattinson Performances: From ‘Good Time’ to ‘High Life’

After his work in two of the biggest YA movie franchises of the aughts, Pattinson emerged as one the finest indie actors in the business.

Robert Pattinson best performances

Ten years ago, no one would believe — of all the franchises in Hollywood — the blockbuster movie series that would yield the most compelling actors would end up being “The Twilight Saga.” We all know about Kristen Stewart’s extraordinary arthouse endeavors, but the Edward to her Bella is every bit as committed to diving deep into character and working with visionary directors. Robert Pattinson made legions of young women swoon, but the roles he’s chosen since the Stephenie Meyer franchise ended have been as colorful as his romantic vampire was pale.

Like Robert Redford and Brad Pitt before him, Pattinson exudes a profound ambivalence about his heartthrob status and a desire to be thought of as far more than a handsome face. And, like his predecessors, he’s done the work to prove it. Even going back to his YA origins as Cedric Diggory in the “Harry Potter” films or as Edward in “Twilight,” Pattinson brought something elusive and enigmatic to those roles. Just as he does in his latest triumph of character work in Claire Denis’ “High Life.”

Denis’ film unfolds slowly, deliberately, like a garrote-wire being pulled from its spool: every moment has been sharpened to its most powerful essence, every shot carefully calibrated with maximum precision. It takes an actor with an expansive skill set to channel Denis’ vision, and Pattinson proves he is up to the challenge. She had originally considered Vincent Gallo and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman for his role in the film, but Pattinson “gives off an aura that immediately makes you want to film him,” Denis told IndieWire in 2016.

In honor of his ever growing, and ever more accomplished, resume, here are IndieWire’s picks for Robert Pattinson’s 11 greatest roles.

11. “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire”

"Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire"

“Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire”

Warner Bros.

In the books, Cedric Diggory was written as that rarest of creatures: the extremely popular, good-looking kid who’s actually a solid dude. With that in mind, who else could have played him but a pre-stardom Robert Pattinson? The soon-to-be-vampire had limited time to make Hufflepuff’s star seeker likable despite competing against Harry Potter in the ill-fated Triwizard Tournament, but passed with flying colors by showing hints of the charisma that he’s since displayed in his auteur-driven leading roles. (And really, bless him for getting even a few of his “Twilight”-obsessed fans into the arthouse for a movie like “Maps to the Stars.”) On the receiving end of one of Voldemort’s most chilling lines — “Kill the spare” — Cedric also represents the fulfillment of a pronouncement made much earlier in the series: “Always the innocent are the first victims, so it has been for ages past, so it is now.” Had a lesser actor played him, we might not have felt the full weight of that tragic end. —MN

10. “The Childhood of a Leader”

Robert Pattinson The Childhood of a Leader

“The Childhood of a Leader”

Brady Corbet amassed an impressive cast for his directorial debut — in addition to Pattinson, “The Childhood of a Leader” stars Bérénice Bejo, Liam Cunningham, and Stacy Martin alongside the frighteningly good Tom Sweet in his debut — but Pattinson was the only one tasked with playing dual roles. And though he portrays just one of those characters for the vast majority of his time onscreen, his presence contributes greatly to the film’s increasingly unsettling atmosphere. You can’t depict the early years of a future fascist without also showing the adults in the room who shaped him into the person he eventually becomes, and Pattinson excels in a small but crucial role. “The tragedy’s not that one man has the courage to be evil,” he says while playing pool in a deceptively important scene, “but that so many have not the courage to be good.” The full significance of that line won’t be clear until the last scene, which will make you wish you’d paid closer to attention to his character all along. —MN

9. “Water for Elephants”

"Water for Elephants"

“Water for Elephants”

20th Century Fox Pictures

Now that Pattinson is such a devoted indie darling, it’s almost hard to remember that — in the middle of his “Twilight” run — he took a breather to play an orphaned veterinarian who joins a traveling circus and begins crushing on the ringmaster’s wife (Reese Witherspoon). “Water for Elephants” was a strange mid-budget movie, and a surprising hit, but Pattinson is probably the reason why such an old-fashioned melodrama connected with modern audiences. His distanced, disaffected performance as Jacob Jankowski helps cut to the heart of a gussied-up spectacle; his steely, even-keeled approach invites you to get swept up in the story without taking it too seriously. And watching him romance a bona fide movie star like Witherspoon proved once and for all that Pattinson was more than just a teen idol. —DE

8. “Damsel”

"Damsel"

“Damsel”

Magnolia Pictures

Perhaps the real trick of Pattinson’s work in films like — yes, these again — the “Twilight” saga and his Cronenberg two-fer, is that he’s in on the joke. He’s certainly in on it with the Zellner brothers’ crafty crack at a Western. “Damsel” plays out relatively straightforward at first, with a placid Pattinson starring as American striver Samuel Alabaster, intent on taming the frontier and catching back up with his beloved bride-to-be. It’s clear that there’s something else happening just below the surface, despite Pattinson’s good-natured pluck and the Zellners’ ability to give their audience plenty of entertainment value. As Samuel’s persona crumbles, and as Pattinson builds on weirdo layer after weirdo layer, “Damsel” drives towards some insane twists, but Pattinson stays grounded, and eventually reveals how much more he was toying with. —KE

7. “The Lost City of Z”

Charlie Hunnam and Robert Pattinson in The Lost City of Z

“The Lost City of Z”

Amazon Studios

By the time he played aide de camp Henry Costin in James Gray’s rousing adventure tale of real-life explorers looking for a vanished civilization in the Amazon in the early 1900s, Pattinson had established himself as a daring actor. But in “The Lost City of Z” he showed just how far he was willing to commit: bearded, bespectacled, and affecting an aura of both English working-class roustabout and by-the-book military disciplinarian, Pattinson left any pretty boy, really any leading man, allure behind him. As Costin, he showed that he’s a character actor at heart, a sensibility he’s since brought to his lead roles as well. And that he’s willing to serve the story and the vision of the filmmaker at all times: his screentime in “Z” is very limited — but he makes the most with the time he’s given. Watching the film with my mom, two elderly women in the row behind us reached over and tapped us on our heads as the credits rolled. They had to share their shock with us: “Can you believe it? That was Robert Pattinson…. From ‘Twilight’!” —CB

6. The “Twilight” Saga

So much of what the vast majority of moviegoers understand to be Pattinson’s skill set is rooted in the recognizability of the “Twilight” franchise, still the most visible and profitable endeavor of his career so far. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, because no matter how deeply the series declined in quality with every subsequent entry (it did; it really, really did) and no matter how easy it is to write off the power of a YA franchise about a sad-eyed teen girl and the also sad-eyed vampire boy who loves her, Pattinson’s work in the series is, well, good.

Edward Cullen is a wacky, unwinnable role — a preternaturally handsome and smart and talented mystery man who also happens to be a decades-old bloodsucker (and who literally sparkles in the sunlight). He is the ultimate unavailable man, and that such a personality would be the building block of Stephenie Meyer’s ludicrously popular YA series is no surprise. It’s the stuff teen dreams are made of, with a mess of insane twists, but Pattinson pulls this nuttiness off with equal parts allure and canny bafflement. Half the time, he looks as shocked as we do about what’s happening — look no further than the “meet the Cullens” scene in the first film, in which Pattinson looks ready to jump out of his skin in a way that both totally suits his character and nods firmly to the audience — and the rest of it sells him as a more than capable leading man. Watch it again, you’ll see more than just the sparkles this time. —KE

5. “The Rover”

"The Rover"

“The Rover”

“Cosmopolis” made it clear that Pattinson was a serious actor with every intention of leveraging his YA cred into an unpredictable career, but it was his performance as Reynolds (or Rey) in David Michôd’s “The Rover” that showed how fearlessly he was going to fulfill his potential. Rey isn’t an easy character; a simple American southerner trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, he’s a living burden in a world where no one can afford to have any extra baggage. Pattinson offers a tragic embodiment of a character who’s innocent and guilty in almost equal measure, turning Rey into a fool who has no shot at the happy ending he might deserve. The part where Pattinson stops the movie in its tracks to sing Keri Hilson’s “Pretty Girl Rock” is the moment when he transcended his “Twilight” fandom once and for all. —DE

4. “Maps to the Stars”

"Maps to the Stars"

“Maps to the Stars”

In his second collaboration with David Cronenberg after “Cosmopolis,” Pattinson starred as Hollywood limousine driver and aspiring screenwriter Jerome Fontana opposite Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikowska, and John Cusack in “Maps to the Stars.” Pattinson’s gift for charting his character’s compassion is heightened by Cronenberg, who throws the well-meaning Jerome down a rabbit hole of twisted Hollywood secrets. Pattinson excels as his character fights to hold onto his self-respect in a town that demands you sell out. Jerome’s profession is key to Cronenberg and Pattinson’s deconstruction of the character. Jerome wants to believe he’s in control of his Hollywood fate, but he’s ultimately a pawn being used by his employers. With each new ring of Hollywood hell Jerome is forced to enter, Pattinson strips away the character’s empathy to create a sharp portrait of aspiring talent being swallowed hole by the Hollywood machine. —ZS

3. “High Life”

"High Life"

“High Life”

A24/YouTube

Flat and arrestingly primitive in a role that was conceived for Philip Seymour Hoffman, Pattinson gives a transfixing lead performance as an intergalactic traveler aboard a drifting spaceship in Claire Denis’ “High Life.” His name is Monte, and he’s alone in the stars save for a handful of corpses and his adorable infant daughter. Over the course of an adventure that travels through time and space and even to the edge of the known universe, Pattinson navigates any number of unfathomable states of being. In fact, the movie is only able to go to such extreme places because of how Pattinson anchors the entire demented adventure to his basic humanity. Not since Keir Dullea in the final movements of “2001: A Space Odyssey” has an actor been able to reflect so much of the universe in the awed expression on his face. —DE

2. “Cosmopolis”

"Cosmopolis"

“Cosmopolis”

eOne Films

Pattinson has taken several risky bets on talented filmmakers in recent years, but the apotheosis of this tendency (pre-“High Life,” anyway) comes from this wackadoodle anti-capitalist odyssey from David Cronenberg, which finds the actor playing a slick and avaricious dirtbag who mutters lines like, “My prostate is asymmetrical.” Riding a limo around New York City in nearly every scene as affluent executive Eric Packer, Pattinson boldly submerges his stardom in the director’s twisted anti-establishment tendencies. Cronenberg’s adaptation of Don DeLillo’s 2003 novella is a savage and absurdist takedown of American affluence that already looks like it was ahead of its time, but its curious appeal owes much to Pattinson’s commitment to the premise. Whereas “Cosmopolis” takes some very weird symbolic turns, as the limo careens through the protest-riddled city streets and arrives at an eerie apartment showdown, Pattinson plays the whole thing straight. He’s the movie’s ultimate means of convincing audiences that this kind of ludicrous character really does exist in the real world. And looking back on “Cosmopolis” from the vantage point of Trump’s America, Eric Packer may have been the most insightful performance in Pattinson’s oeuvre to date. —EK

1. “Good Time

"Good Time"

“Good Time”

R-Pats doesn’t actually have a good time in the Safdie Brothers’ tense drama, but viewers do. He’s rarely been better than he is here, playing a low-level criminal whose habit of robbing banks with his developmentally disabled brother takes an unsurprisingly bad turn with help from a dye pack and an inconveniently placed window. With bottle-blond hair and a hint of an accent we’ve never heard him assume before, Pattinson’s performance is yet another reminder of his ever-impressive range — not that we needed one — as well as his great taste in collaborators. —MN

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