A Conversation with Shooting Star Director Ben Safdie

By Brian Brooks,

Three years after their acclaimed Heaven Knows What, local filmmakers Josh and Ben Safdie return to a sinister New York for their latest film, Good Time. This time, the duo upped the ante with a cast that includes Twilight star Robert Pattinson along with Jennifer Jason Leigh, Oscar nominee Barked Abdi (Captain Phillips) along with Ben Safdie who does double duty both in front and behind the camera.

Since his blockbuster turn through five mega-hit installments of the Twilight saga, U.K.-born star Robert Pattinson has had semi-success in a number of roles in mostly indie films — save for the well-received Lost City of Z (2016). Pattinson’s legion of Twilight fans would do well to see their hero in this sizzling role. He may not look or sound like the undead heartthrob Edward Cullen opposite Kristen Stewart, but he definitely lays out his formidable acting chops. And the Safdies gave him a lot to digest.

“Right from the beginning when you’re playing a character that’s on the fringe — and not just a film version of fringe, but actually ‘Fringe’ — it feels like you’re an alien.”

In the hypnotic crime thriller, Pattinson plays Constantine ‘Connie’ Nikas, a low-life who embarks on a twisted odyssey through the city’s underworld in a desperate and dangerous attempt to rescue his brother Nick (Ben Safdie) out of jail. Playing out over the course of one adrenaline-packed night, Connie finds himself on a mad descent into violence and mayhem as he races against the clock to save his brother and himself.

Pattinson’s path to Connie evolved over time. He had not seen any of the Safdies’ films until after he met them. Ben Safdie and Pattinson began developing their characters over email, writing each other as their characters.

“Rob would email me his ‘letters from jail,’ and I’d respond as Nick,” explained Ben Safdie. “Then Josh [Safdie] and [scriptwriter] Ronald [Bronstein] would read these emails. That’s how we experienced [the relationship] between Nick and Connie.”

“It’s been a long time, we’ve been trying to make this movie for five or six years,” explained Josh Safdie, who appeared on stage with brother Ben along with Robert Pattinson and Ronald Bronstein in a post-screening conversation moderated by Film Comment’s Nic Rapold at the Film Society of Lincoln Center in New York. “Ronnie and I had just downloaded every episode of Cops and we were devouring it. Also at the time, there were two guys in upstate New York who had just broken out of prison. The whole country was rooting for these two. Out of a conversation r[elated to them], we all agreed that we wanted to make a movie that was ‘dangerous’ — that was ‘pulp.’”

Good Time debuted in competition in May at the Cannes Film Festival to a number of rave response. Variety praised Pattinson, calling his work on the film “a career-peak performance.” Manohla Dargis wrote in the New York Times from Cannes that the film had shaken up “a largely listless event,” adding that the film was “pure cinematic pleasure.”

“In casting Rob, we tried to turn him into a ‘street-casted’ character,” said Josh Safdie. “That is why we developed his background so obsessively. A lot of people in the movie are friends or friends of friends. Our casting agents met people who were in halfway houses and they would give [suggestions] in how we shot scenes.”

Pattinson said that he tried out the make-up and look of Connie Nikas one afternoon near Josh Safdie’s apartment in Harlem. Coming off as a hooligan, Pattinson said his experience walking down the street was an unexpected adventure. “I had acne scars. I was walking around looking like a crackhead,” he said. “I wanted to see how people would react. Suddenly all these [criminal-like] people would come up to me. It was an alternate reality.”

As Good Time heads into U.S. theaters beginning August 11th via distributor A24, fans of the crime caper will get a treat in this gritty often hilarious Good Time. Pattinson will take the spotlight on screen, but he reserves kudos for the movie’s creators.
“There are very few people who can make successful anti-hero movies…There’s some kind of alchemy that they create that makes you want to support their [vision].”