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'Good Time' Filmmakers Wanted To Make A Movie That 'Actually Feels Dangerous'

Aug 23, 2017

Despite a title which might lead you to believe otherwise, Good Time is not an easy-going, popcorn flick; the gritty, pulp thriller falls into a genre that could be described as "movies about very, very bad nights."

Robert Pattinson plays Connie Nikas, a small-time criminal trying to get his brother Nick out of jail after a bank robbery gone wrong.

Brotherhood frames the movie, both on-screen and behind the scenes — Benny Safdie, who plays the character of Nick, directed the movie with his brother, Josh Safdie. But the directors insist that the movie's fraternal themes weren't entirely conscious.

"This fraternal element was something that we don't even have to think about," Josh Safdie says. "We just kind of bring it to the movie."


Interview Highlights

On casting the character of the brother Nick, who has an intellectual disability

Josh Safdie: We were looking into casting actors with real disabilities and we were very far along in that process and we were interviewing a lot of people ... but we ended up ... looking at our schedule, which was very aggressive, and a lot of scenes that called for intricate blocking and action set pieces — because this is, in the end, an action movie ... we realized that [the actor] wouldn't have much agency in those scenes, we'd be pushing them around and manipulating, and that morally crossed a line for us.

Benny Safdie: The last thing we wanted to do was have that character be taken advantage of from behind the camera.

On fraternal themes in the film

Josh Safdie: It was almost like we accidentally cut our hand and our blood kind of went all over the film ... we didn't realize we were putting in this element of brotherhood into the performances ... and once we saw it, we were like: Wow this is really apparent.

On the movie — like many pulp films — being full of female victims

Benny Safdie: This [character, Connie,] is somebody who takes advantage of people. He's more or less a scumbag. ... I think that he can survey a landscape and see how to basically use it to his advantage. ... Women, and people of color, and Jewish people — nobody is safe in this world. He's not safe as well, and he gets what's coming to him.

But I do think that he is a mentally ill person himself ... that's the psychopathic element to his character — he's going to surround himself with people like him. His love interest, Jennifer Jason Leigh's character ... [her] character's based on someone who we know, and when I was developing the character with her, she understood it. She said: These are two people who are connected to one another because they're both damaged and they feel like they can complete one another.

On why the film isn't lighter

Benny Safdie: There's probably three or four instances of violence and, yes, we treat them very bluntly. But we went out of our way to not include any guns in the movie ... we're introducing these elements of violence within something that feels very real. ...

We wanted to deliver a piece of pulp that actually felt dangerous. ... Certain people will be able to see the humor in the scenarios, but I think a big part of the movie-going experience is to know: Hey, this world is dangerous, and it actually feels dangerous, and there aren't moments of glee.

James Delahoussaye and Jolie Myers produced and edited the audio of this interview. Beth Novey adapted it for the Web.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The new movie "Good Time" is not an easygoing popcorn flick. It fits into a genre that you could describe as movies about a very bad night. The actor Robert Pattinson plays a small-time criminal trying to get his intellectually disabled brother out of jail after a bank robbery goes wrong.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "GOOD TIME")

ROBERT PATTINSON: (As Connie Nikas) Something happened. I don't know exactly what. My brother's been arrested. He's being held at Rikers Island. He could get killed in there.

SHAPIRO: The relationship between the two brothers, Connie and Nick, frames the movie. And two brothers also directed this movie - Josh and Benny Safdie. Benny Safdie also plays the disabled brother in the film. When I spoke with the Safdies earlier, I asked Josh about that casting decision.

JOSH SAFDIE: We were looking into casting actors with real disabilities. And we were very far along in that process, and we were interviewing a lot of people, getting to know people - actually ended up becoming very helpful to Benny. But we ended up coming to basically a fork in the road with it where a decision was to be made.

And we - looking at our schedule which was very aggressive and a lot of scenes that called for intricate blocking and action set pieces 'cause this is, in the end, an action movie, we realized that they wouldn't have much agency in those scenes. We're basically just pushing them around and manipulating. And that would - that morally crossed a line for us, so we were just...

BENNY SAFDIE: And the last thing we wanted to do is, yeah, have that character be taken advantage of from behind the camera. And then just having me play the brother allowed Rob and I to develop a relationship outside of the camera as these two people that we would then bring to it.

SHAPIRO: So I don't want to get too psychoanalytic, but you are two brothers making a movie about two brothers. Was there anything about your relationship that you discovered or that changed as you were making this movie about a relationship between these two fictional brothers?

B. SAFDIE: Yeah, well, it was it was almost like we accidentally cut our hand, and the blood kind of went all over the film. And...

SHAPIRO: (Laughter) What do you mean by that?

B. SAFDIE: Just 'cause we didn't realize we were putting in this element of brotherhood into the performances or into the desperation.

SHAPIRO: Oh.

B. SAFDIE: And once we saw it, we're like, wow, this is really apparent because we don't know anything else, you know, in that sense of...

SHAPIRO: So you're saying you set out to make just kind of a heist movie, bank robbery gone bad and at the end realized that it had this theme of brotherhood that you hadn't intended to.

B. SAFDIE: No. What my point was is that I think there's conceptual writing, then there's subconscious writing. And I think that we added these elements of - this fraternal element was something that we don't even have to think about. We just kind of bring it to the movie, if that makes sense.

SHAPIRO: Yeah. This movie's drawn comparisons to some gritty movies from the '70s - you know, "Taxi Driver," "Dog Day Afternoon." There's a lot to like in those movies. They tended not to treat women very well or in a very nuanced way. And in your film, it seems as though the women are for the most part victims. They're characters who endure things. And then the story moves on. I'm wondering why you wrote it in that particular way.

J. SAFDIE: Yeah, the - you know, when we were sitting down and concepting (ph) basically the trajectory of this guy's night, this is somebody who takes advantage of people, you know? He's a - he's not - he's more or less a scumbag. I mean he's an idyllic romantic in another ways, which is - somewhat makes him - want to keep watching him. But I think that he can survey a landscape and see how to, you know, basically use it to his advantage.

And I think that women and people of color and Jewish people - I mean everyone is - nobody is safe in this world, and he is not safe as well. And he gets what's coming to him. But I do think that he - you know, he is a mentally ill person himself - Connie - in a lot of ways. I mean that's the psychopathic element to his character - is he's going to surround himself with people like him.

So his - you know, his love interest, Jennifer Jason Leigh's character - something that - the character's based on someone who we know. And you know, when I was developing the character with her, she understood it. She said, this is - these are two people who are connected to one another because they're both damaged, and they feel like they can complete one another.

SHAPIRO: There are movies in this genre that have jokes, high jinks, exciting car chases, sort of delight and joy interspersed with the darkness and the blood. You seem to have made a decision not to put those things in this movie (laughter). Was there ever a moment that you thought, oh, maybe we should cut away from the guy getting punched in the face; maybe (laughter) we should...

B. SAFDIE: Well, I mean the...

SHAPIRO: ...Lighten the mood a little?

B. SAFDIE: The violence in the film is actually not - there's probably three or four instances of violence. And yes, we treat them very bluntly. But it's not overwhelming. We went out of our way to not include any guns in the movie. And we went - you know, I think that - I think what you're responding to is more the sense of how real because we're introducing these elements of violence within a very - something that feels very real, that it actually has a hyper kind of effect.

I'm finding it interesting as I sit in on some screenings that the humor of the movie is actually coming through the absurdity of the situations, this almost schadenfreude, this - seeing this guy where literally everything he does goes wrong.

SHAPIRO: But he hurts so many other people in the process.

B. SAFDIE: For sure.

SHAPIRO: There is so much carnage in his wake. It's not sort of, like, "Adventures In Babysitting" everything goes wrong.

J. SAFDIE: (Laughter) No.

B. SAFDIE: No. I mean it is perversely almost like that. But I agree with you. I mean look; it's - it is - we wanted to deliver a piece of pulp that actually felt dangerous. And I think that part of that is, you know, like - certain people will be able to see the humor in the scenarios. But I think that a big part of the movie-going experience is to know, hey, this world is dangerous, and it actually feels dangerous. And there aren't moments of glee.

SHAPIRO: Josh and Benny Safdie, thanks for talking with us about your new movie, "Good Time."

B. SAFDIE: Thank you very much.

J. SAFDIE: Thank you.

SHAPIRO: The movie "Good Time" comes out in theaters this Friday.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOSHUA REDMAN AND THE BAD PLUS'S "AS THIS MOMENT SLIPS AWAY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.