The Safdie Brothers Tell Us They Wanted ‘Good Time’ to Represent the Anarchic Time We’re Living in
Following up their film festival favorite, “Heaven Knows What,” filmmakers Josh and Benny Safdie return to the mean streets of New York City with “Good Time,” a hypnotic crime thriller that explores with bracing immediacy the tragic sway of family and fate. After a botched bank robbery lands his younger brother in prison, Constantine “Connie” Nikas (Robert Pattinson) embarks on a twisted odyssey through the city’s underworld in an increasingly desperate — and dangerous — attempt to get his brother Nick (Benny Safdie) out of jail. Over the course of one adrenalized night, Connie finds himself racing against the clock to save his brother and himself, knowing both their lives hang in the balance.
In the tradition of urban thrillers by Sidney Lumet, Martin Scorsese and William Friedkin, “Good Time” plays out over the course of a single unforgettable night as its two central characters negotiate various New York City institutions and locales — from jails and hospitals to private homes and a shuttered amusement park — and the everyday people who make these ordinary places burst with life. “Good Time” is also a universally relatable story of brotherhood, tracking the aftermath of a crime as it affects two siblings in disparate ways.
“Good Time” was competition for the prestigious Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival this year. Though Josh and Benny had been to Cannes before, 2017 was a whole new experience for the filmmaking brothers.
Benny: “We were in competition which is kind of insane. We had been to Cannes for the Directors’ Fortnight which was a huge honor in its own right. We had seen the steps to the huge theater on the other side of the street and thought, ‘that’s interesting.’ To be a part of it, there’s a kind of regalness to it that was kind of overwhelming. If you watch the video of us entering, you can see it on our faces. It was amazing how many people just watched us enter. It was exciting, but at the same time, I was very nervous.
We’d been told that when you have a movie in competition, you have a target on your back. People want to not like the movie. They kind of don’t want you to succeed there. It’s an interesting way to go into a movie. To have it be received well and get the ovation that we got, it was very special. I’ll never forget it.”
The gritty drama is receiving critical accolades. As of press time, “Good Time” has a score of 84 on Metacritic and 92 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. There has been much discussion lately about whether these critical aggregate sites are good or bad for Hollywood. Though the sites are supportive of the film, the brothers try not to pay too much attention.
Benny: “We’re certified fresh! It’s a great thing in that people are responding to the movie. Every time we go to a theater and do a Q&A, there’s a kind of energy in the air and people want to talk about [the film]. It’s part of the filmmaking process. You just have to go with it and do what you have to do to get the movie out there and get people to see it.”
Josh: “I think the culture at large is suffering from echo chambers and isolation zones. Collective voices are becoming louder than individual voices. I don’t read reviews of movies so I can’t speak to that. Those aren’t the things that make me determine whether to see a movie. We don’t read the reviews of our own movies.”
It’s every filmmaker’s dream to have a major star reach out to them and ask to work together. In the case of “Good Time,” the film was created out of Pattinson’s unsolicited offer to work with the brothers.
Josh: “The project came about because Rob Pattinson reached out to us about a still he saw on the Internet. He said he had felt an innate connection to us and that he wanted to be a part of whatever we were doing next. It was kind of a mystical email at first. We ended up meeting with him and wrote this project especially for him. It was borne out of a lifelong interest of American criminals and the weird prison ethos of America. I was reading ‘The Executioner’s Song’ to get the beat of the time.”
After being thrown into the cultural zeitgeist after his star turn in the “Twilight” films, it would have been easy for Pattinson to rest on his laurels. Or worse yet, the industry might have typecast him. To his credit, Pattinson isn’t letting either happen.
Benny: “He’s always found a way to reach out in different directions. [‘Twilight’] has given him the ability to do these types of projects. You always want to know you’re doing something new and special. I think the way he approaches his performances is that he thinks he doesn’t know what he’s doing. He comes into it with very fresh eyes all the time.”
Academy-Award nominee Jennifer Jason Leigh is another one of the above-the-line performers in the film. The brothers were able to get her on board in a six degrees of Kevin Bacon kind of way.
Josh: “She’s incredible. Caleb Landry Jones, who had been in ‘Heaven Knows What,’ had the same manager as Jennifer. I went through the official route and called Greg, her manager, and said, ‘we have this really interesting role. It’s not a massive role, but it’s a very meaty one.’ I sent over a character packet and some clips from the movie that we had already shot. At the same time, we were producing a movie written and directed by Owen Kline. Owen knew Jennifer on a personal level so he reached out. [Kline is the son of Leigh’s ‘Fast Times at Ridgemont High’ co-star, Phoebe Cates.] She really responded to the meatiness of the character and agreed to do it even though it was only a couple of days of shooting.”
With the CGI-driven summer movie season drawing to a close, ‘Good Time’ might be the cure for the hangover from all of the bloated budgets and bloated running times of the past few months.
Josh: “We made it to be a popcorn film, but we designed it in the tradition of genre movies that we love. We wanted to make a pulpy thing that was representative of the anarchic time that we’re living in. Making a crime drama in 2017 is a lot different than making a crime drama in 2005 or 1993.”
Benny: “It’s going to reflect the times we’re in. We’re allowing the real world to seep into it. We didn’t want this thing to be 400 minutes. It’s a hundred minutes. We wanted it to be this propulsive force that you move with. Only when you leave the theater do you ask yourself what happened.”
Josh: “It’s a very superficial thing, but you look at a movie’s running time and say, ‘oh good.’ You don’t want to take up too much of someone’s time. You want to be efficient.”
“Good Time” opens in New York and Los Angeles Aug. 11 and nationwide Aug. 25.