The Safdie brothers don’t play it safe with ‘Good Time’
The filmmaking Safdie brothers, Josh and Benny, are in their 30’s. Josh is two years older than Benny, and in interviews, although both of them have plenty to say, it’s Josh who’s the comparative chatterbox. In Boston recently to discuss “Good Time,” the gritty and jittery crime movie they codirected that stars Robert Pattinson and Benny (both brothers have been on both sides of the camera before), they took turns answering questions but sometimes couldn’t help talking over one another. The film has “Twilight” heartthrob Pattinson playing always-scheming Connie Nikas, and Benny playing his mentally challenged younger brother Nick. With neither of them having much direction in life, Connie dreams up, then plans out a bank heist for the two of them to pull off. To say it doesn’t go well is an understatement. It’s the brothers’ fourth feature film, after the comic-drama “Daddy Longlegs,” the basketball documentary “Lenny Cooke,” and the street life thriller “Heaven Knows What.” They are self-admitted movie nuts.
Q: Do you recall what movies you saw as kids that made you think you might want to make them some day?
Benny: “Kramer vs. Kramer.” My dad showed it to us when we were very young because he didn’t know how to explain that we were going to spend a weekend with our mother.
Josh: His control and custody (in the divorce) was still tenuous so he wanted to plant a seed in our heads.
Q: In other interviews I’ve read, you’ve listed all sorts of movies that might have been influences on you. Are there any that you find yourselves watching over and over?
Josh: I’ve seen “Kids” so many times, and “Taxi Driver” so many times. “California Split” is another one. And my (“Good Time”) cowriter Ronnie Bronstein says the rule with “Goodfellas” is if it’s on, you have to watch it.
Benny: I hate to sound like a film snob, but Robert Bresson’s “A Man Escaped” is one movie that I watch every time it’s on.
Q: You two have become adept at using a lot of first-time actors in the past, but now you’re taking a big step up with Robert Pattinson in the lead, and Jennifer Jason-Leigh in a couple of cameos. How did “Good Time” come about?
Josh: Robert (Pattinson) saw a still from “Heaven Knows What” on IndieWire. He hadn’t seen any of our previous films, but when he saw the still he sent us an email through a friend, saying, “I saw this photo, I’m not sure why I’m so attracted to it, but I’m feeling some connection. And I feel there’s a connection to you, so we need to do something together.” We were working on the script for “Uncut Gems” at the time, and my immediate response was he wasn’t right for that one. But I wrote him back, and we met up. I had already seen him in “The Rover,” but I’d never seen the “Twilight” movies, and when we met I was struck by this mania that was inside of him. So I told him that I had a vague idea, I wanted to make a pulp film, I knew I wanted it to be a genre movie, and because he’s a movie star, I wanted him to be the lead. I said, “Give me a couple of months to write the screenplay.” I wrote it with Ronnie Bronstein, Benny and I codirected it, then Ronnie and Benny edited it together.
Q: “Good Time” was nominated for the Palme d’Or at Cannes this year, and you received a huge standing ovation at that festival. Now your names are becoming known in larger circles. So does that mean it’s gotten easier for you to make movies?
Josh: It is finally becoming a little bit easier.
Benny: It’s the first time where we’re able to say, “Well, maybe we’ll be able to make the next two or three movies.” Whereas before, it’s always been let’s make the next one; no, that one’s not gonna happen, so let’s figure out something else.
Josh: After “Daddy Longlegs” we said we were going to make this movie “Uncut Gems,” which was this sprawling, wayward thing that centers around a 600-carat black opal that’s smuggled into America. At the time it was a little too ambitious. In fairness to that movie, we needed to go and mine the basketball world in “Lenny Cooke,” we had to go and mine this girl’s life in “Heaven Knows What,” and we needed to mine the elements of genre and thriller with “Good Time.” Now we can make “Uncut Gems,” and we have Rob Pattinson to thank because of him reaching out and saying I believe in you and I can get you the money to make a big thriller. That really did set us off to go do this next movie. We have backers now. For the first time ever we know where our rent will come from for the next three years.
“Good Time” opens on August 25.
— Ed Symkus writes about movies for More Content Now. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.