Robert Pattinson talks ‘Good Time’ with co-directors Josh, Ben Safdie

An illustration of Robert Pattinson, Josh Sadfie and Ben Sadfie
Maya Kandell/Staff

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Hiding in plain sight in the hooded, neon-clad undertones of the New York City night, Constantine Nikas (Robert Pattinson) can rob a bank, kidnap a man from a hospital or even hijack a theme park with just his charmingly deceitful smile.

Directed by brothers and independent filmmakers Josh and Ben Safdie, contemporary crime thriller “Good Time” follows small-time criminal Connie Nikas as he skillfully slips through the darker side of New York while single-handedly caring for his developmentally-disabled younger brother Nick (Ben Safdie). Yet what begins as the simple tale of two underdogs descends into a chaotic race against time, as Connie desperately attempts to free Nick from jail after a bank robbery gone wrong.

“The narrative itself was crafted in an almost stream-of-consciousness way,” Josh Safdie recalled in an interview. “We developed the characters ad nauseum, and the deep seeds of inspiration come from studying the prison ethos in America.”

For its honest account of the current state of crime in America, Josh Safdie referred to “Cops” as “the greatest American TV show ever,” explaining that he and Ben “downloaded every episode and just devoured it, just seeing this portrait of America through this exploitation in a weird way.” The show became an inspiration for the film’s focus on Connie’s life of crime.

Through the rich narratives imposed upon its seemingly normal characters, the film gives voice to the perpetrators of outlandish crimes that dominate shows like “Cops.” Even as Connie trespasses, cons and seduces his way through the plot, the audience empathizes with him, willing him to succeed.

“Connie’s idea of trying to help Nick is noble,” Josh Safdie said. “Connie believes that the only way you can really change someone is through experience. That idea is very good — the execution maybe is a little off. If they had succeeded (with the robbery), where would they go?”

Regarding the film’s relatable characters, Ben Safdie explained that “there is something to the fact that even if Connie doesn’t recognize that he did something wrong in the beginning, he’s trying to fix it. There is this feeling that he’s trying to get Nick out of that position. There’s something redeeming about that.”

The film’s most striking element is Pattinson’s convincing performance as the rough and wonderfully complex Connie, which underscores the sense of realism that “Good Time” exudes.

“(Connie’s) not really directly related to my background but every single part I try and do is always from chronic insecurities about being judged about my actual life, so I try and go as far away as possible,” Pattinson joked. “See, I’m not just a schoolboy from England!”

“I think I just really responded to the energy which (Josh Safdie and Ben Safdie) bring to the writing,” Pattinson explained. “There’s a wildness to the writing on the page and the final product — I could really feel that energy and just wanted to hold onto the train a little bit.

Pattinson researched his role as Connie extensively through method acting. “I read into it a ton though.” Pattinson said, “There’s something about (the act of) constantly wanting when you’re only living in the future, and it feels like Connie’s living very much in the present, but really I’ve always thought he’s actually living in the future.”

Connie’s obsession with the future becomes apparent throughout the film as his mind and the plot race against one another. Yet the Safdie brothers also pay particular attention to the intricate details that make Connie and Nick’s story come alive — namely, the authenticity of the New York City that the Safdie brothers recreate in “Good Time” is based on their own experiences growing up in Queens.

“When you’ve lived in a city, you’re walking through it with your head down, not your head up,” Ben Safdie explained, “And this movie is walking through New York with your head down, so you kind of only see what you remember. It feels personal.”

“Good Time” excels in its attempt to be both a personal and distant reminder of the darker motivations that rule the subconscious, as the audience becomes entangled in Connie’s fight against society, eagerly awaiting his next thought, next move and next crime.

“Every character is trying to push society’s bubble and break it, and society just pushes back tenfold. So everybody kind of ends up where they belong,” Ben Safdie said. “You’re running around with this guy who’s telling you what he believes and the movie is moving at his speed, so you’re believing it, even though it’s not necessarily the right thing.”

Josh Safdie added, “I think everybody ultimately has a deep desire to break free and I think that the movie is ultimately about breaking free of the molds that society has put on you.”

As he desperately claws his way back to Nick, Connie separates himself from his own mold as a troubled criminal in “Good Time,” exploring the surprisingly human motivations that evoke even the darkest of actions.

Contact Manisha Ummadi at [email protected].