The fraternal directing duo of Josh and Benny Safdie make urban odysseys that flow with the quicksilver currents of New York City. You can feel the gum-stained pavement under your feet. You can smell the Q train.
The Safdies were already an electric new energy in cinema — streetwise and scuzzy — but in the ironically titled caper “Good Time,” they have quickened their already kinetic pace. This movie, wild and erratic, is downright blistering. The opening credits, as if rushing to catch up, don’t appear until well into the film, after all hell has already broken loose.
Many of their gritty, abrasive tales emanate directly from the street; that’s where they found the homeless, heroin-addicted protagonist (Arielle Holmes) of their last film, the verite “Heaven Knows What.” The same could not be said for the star of “Good Time”: Robert Pattinson. The “Twilight” actor, captivated by a still from “Heaven Knows What,” contacted the Safdies and out came “Good Time.”
It goes without saying that this is a long way off from “Twilight” — a franchise that, whatever its other attributes, has at least given us two of the most interesting actors of a generation. While Kristen Stewart has already won acclaim for herself in Olivier Assayas films and others, Pattinson has more quietly assembled an equally impressive filmography with the likes of David Cronenberg and James Gray, in whose “The Lost City of Z” Pattinson made such a distinct (if heavily bearded) impression earlier this year.
In “Good Time,” he plays Connie, one of two brothers from Queens. The other, Nick (played by co-director Benny Safdie), is mentally challenged. With no parents apparently on the scene, Connie is Nick’s keeper, and a highly questionable one at that. In the opening scene, he pulls Nick out of a psychiatrist session, admonishing him as they hustle down the hallway that it’s not where he belongs.
Connie believes in his brother — too much, you could say. Not moments after fleeing the doctor, he’s ordering Nick to put on a mask — a cheap, rubbery black face — and leading him into a bank robbery at a teller window. Not since “Dog Day Afternoon” has a more unprepared pair tried their hand at an ill-considered heist. They emerge with $60,000 in cash but soon after their livery cab driver picks them up, a dye pack explodes and the brothers spill out of the car in a cloud of red smoke.
From here, it’s a nonstop freefall. Chased by the police, Nick crashes through a glass door and is arrested. Connie, desperate to put bail money together, first tries to take advantage of his better-off girlfriend (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and, when that fails, improvises his way through increasingly audacious schemes in a nocturnal adventure that somehow includes trips to an amusement park, White Castle and a random household in which Connie takes the time to dye his hair blond. Along the way, Taliah Webster, as a black teen exploited by Connie, and the “Heaven Knows What” actor Buddy Duress, give terrific performances. (Duress’ entrance is alone worth the price of admission.)
In the annals of the crime film, the pulpy “Good Time” is roughly the opposite of something like the uber-professional thieves of “Heat.” At one point, “Cops” is seen on a television, and these are the kind of dimwitted exploits that would fit right in there. But aside from being a devoted brother, the predatory Connie also a clever, lecherous user of people.
Love was a drug for the smitten young woman of “Heaven Knows What.” For the brothers of “Good Time,” it’s an exploitation. But in the film’s headlong rush, the jailed Nick virtually disappears, and that feels like a mistake. If there’s a knock on “Good Time,” it’s that its sheer eagerness for anything unconventional comes at the cost of something deeper.
“Good Time” is a story about one bad night gone worse.
So how did they get one of the biggest movie stars in the world to lead their next film? Pattinson called them.
The Associated Press sat down with Pattinson and the Safdies to talk about “Good Time” and how a movie star was able to stay hidden in plain sight in New York — even on the subway at rush hour.
Remarks have been edited for clarity and brevity.
AP: It’s a crazy story how Robert became aware of you as filmmakers.
Josh Safdie: It’s not that crazy, is it?
AP: He saw a promotional still from “Heaven Knows What” and decided he had to work with you?
Josh Safdie: I guess it is kind of wild. Honestly I forget the stature of his stardom. To me it’s like a guy saw a picture and he was inspired by it and he reached out. It’s totally normal. But I guess when you look at it from afar it’s kind of crazy.
Pattinson: I don’t know about the stature of my star, but I think the level of conviction was unusual for me at least. It was like I knew. And then we did the meeting and just agreed to do something. And then also for that to actually happen afterward is even more unusual. People say, “Oh let’s do something together” all the time.
Josh Safdie: I warned you, I said, “Be careful, we are the type of people who when we want to do something we’ll just do it. We’ll figure out a way to do it.”
Benny Safdie: The movie wouldn’t be here had he not reached out to us.
AP: Was this a different experience for you?
Pattinson: They run at a different level of energy to most people. It’s nice, though. I was thinking how to describe the movie and it’s like it’s a car crash movie, but the car crash happens in the first five minutes and you’re just skidding for the rest.
Josh Safdie: We wanted to make a thriller that actually thrilled you, like the stakes felt really real.
AP: Had you been to places like these before? A bail bonds office? A jail?
Josh Safdie: We brought Rob to this one jail called the Manhattan Detention Center. We had become friendly with the warden there and she was like, “Come by!” She gave us unfettered access. It was insane. At the end I was like, “What’s up with the female wing?”
Pattinson: And you can’t even go there as a guy.
Josh Safdie: No you’re not allowed and she’s like, “You guys can come!” I look at Rob and he’s like, “I don’t want to go.” And I’m like come on let’s go. No one had recognized us.
Pattinson: Even the people giving us the tour didn’t realize we were doing it for a movie. Everyone was asking us to contact our lawyers outside. And then we went to the female wing and within seconds…
Josh Safdie: One girl was like, “HIM!” (Pointing to Pattinson). He was immediately like, “I told you we shouldn’t have gone in here.”
Pattinson: The assistant warden then was like, “Who are you guys?”
Benny Safdie: We’re like, “We’ve gotta go.”
By Jake Coyle