Good Time directors the Safdie brothers: Robert Pattinson was just a guy chasing work
The low-budget crime-thriller film-makers talk about being petrified of stasis and casting the Twilight star in their latest release, despite not having seen his movies
In a Hollywood that seems more monetised, sanitised and purely profit-driven than ever these days, we use the phrase film industry so much more than film world it is good to be reminded of the people tearing up around the edges, propelled by their own outsized forces of personality and vision. Josh and Benny Safdie are chancers, hustlers and prodigious talents. You could say they have been film-makers since they were kids, when their dad used to shut them in a closet with a camcorder. They are also throwbacks to a more haphazard, chaotic and readily romanticised time when movies trailed the mythos of their own making; when what you saw on screen in the 70s, say, was tinted with behind-the-scenes legends of chutzpah.
The brothers, who are in their 30s and grew up in New York, shuttling between Queens and Manhattan, are known for low-budget, gutter realism movies and for opting for nonprofessional actors through the process of street casting. Those who know them say they have a special kind of magnetism for madness. The film-maker Ron Bronstein, a frequent collaborator, has said that Josh, in particular, cant move five inches through life without attracting a lunatic experience. Such as, for example, that time at the height of Twilight hysteria when Robert Pattinson sent them an out-the-blue email, begging them to let him work on whatever their next project was. They could not believe he had even seen their low-budget heroin drama, 2014s Heaven Knows What. The extra layer of oddness to this story is that Pattinson hadnt seen the film: he was going purely on some sixth-sense reaction he had to a still of its star Arielle Holmess pink-lit face.
That email catalysed one of the most unforgettable movies of 2017. Good Time, the Safdies third feature film, takes place over one messed-up-beyond-all-imagining night in a neon-bled Queens as budding career criminal Connie (Pattinson), fresh out of prison, attempts both a bank robbery and a jailbreak after his brother, who has learning disabilities, is imprisoned in New Yorks Rikers Island. Brutal, hyper-adrenalised and unrelentingly headlong, the movie thrums with diabolical energy, propelled by a blistering 80s-tinged score by the electronic musician Oneohtrix Point Never.
Dont listen to it when youre driving, Josh warns, handing me a record of the soundtrack. Someone got a speeding ticket. They got pulled over and [the cop] was, Like, what happened? I was listening to the Good Time soundtrack.
We are in their small but maximised Tokyoed out, in their description Manhattan office, a space filled with movie posters and shelves of DVDs. Benny, 31, the clean-cut younger brother, is in pressed chinos and a striped, button-down shirt, with the flash of a gold wedding ring on his finger. Thirty-three-year-old Josh bearded, wild of hair and exuding a feral air is wearing a Connecticut state prison T-shirt. Neither takes offence when I ask if it is stolen. In fact, it was a gift from a guy who befriended Josh while he was hanging around Manhattans criminal court. When Josh asked why this guys nickname was the Comish he learned he was talking to the former commissioner of Connecticut prisons, Jim Dzurenda. So hes a very sweet guy and hes like: Look, Im not on the job any more, I actually want to get into entertainment. Can you put me in the movie? And Im, like: Jim, Im dying to put you in the movie. So hes in the movie! Hes the guy Macing Nick in Rikers Island.
Why is it, I begin, that they are so drawn to and Josh, fidgety on his chair, rushes to finishes the sentence winners who cant win? Because theyre all winners, in my opinion; theyre all heroic. Connie is a very heroic person, in that hes not willing to accept his situation. [He] does a lot of despicable things in the movie, but he is doing it in the name of a dream, a vision, a purpose.