Just before an interview with the Safdie brothers – the filmmakers behind the gritty crime-thriller “Good Time” – a reporter gets a warning: “They like to talk.”
That’s a good thing; it’s an interview, after all. But it’s something to plan for, if you only have an hour with them.
Josh and Benny Safdie — who are 33 and 31 — could spend a full 60 minutes answering one question. A discussion of their movie could easily turn into a philosophical conversation about iconography or the meaning of time.
Their “Good Time” star Robert Pattinson calls this trait an “abundance of energy.”
“It’s just that, from Day 1, Minute 1 of the day until wrap,” he said. “Just always at maximum.”
The New York-bred, Boston University-educated Safdie siblings try to keep it simple, but they can’t help but go deep.
Same with their movie.
They swear that, at its heart, “Good Time” — which opens Friday — is a “popcorn flick.”
It follows Connie Nikas (Pattinson), a bank robber with poor execution who goes on a wild journey to evade police and keep his brother, Nick (Benny Safdie), out of jail. The Safdie brothers co-directed the feature, which had its world premiere at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Josh wrote the screenplay with longtime collaborator Ronald Bronstein.
“It’s a thriller — in the regard that it’s entertainment first,” Josh said, a day after the brothers screened the film for locals at the Brattle Theatre. “It’s a guy who gets into trouble and has to get out of it — continually.”
But “Good Time” is also about class, race, and politics, as it follows a disenfranchised white guy taking advantage of people with less privilege in his quest to be free.
Some of those themes were intentional, others rose up on their own, post-election.
“There’s a good tradition of genre movies where they are reflections of society,” Josh said. “A lot of Westerns in the ’70s and ’80s were Vietnam, basically. You have the work of [George] Romero, who’s using horror to talk about race, about the suburban plight. We [also] wanted to reflect back on society itself.”
The film is also about celebrity — because of its star.
The project came out of a meeting with Pattinson, who told us in a phone interview that he was drawn to the “frenetic, frenzied energy” of the brothers’ work.
Pattinson — who became a celebrity because of the “Twilight” films — had more recently earned a reputation for taking smaller, transformative roles in films such as David Cronenberg’s “Cosmopolis,” James Gray’s “The Lost City of Z,” and David Michôd’s “The Rover.”
“He approached us and we were like, ‘OK, let’s make a movie around this guy,’” Josh said, noting that Pattinson’s life, thanks to the commercial success of “Twilight” and his real-life romance with costar Kristen Stewart, had involved a complicated relationship with the paparazzi and the public. “There were elements of him that I wanted to bring to this character — this element of a wounded war victim. Someone who had been walking through life trying not to be seen.”
In one scene, Pattinson’s Connie bolts from a cruiser as though he’s been found by a photographer.
This blending of fiction and reality has become one of the brothers’ filmmaking trademarks, an interest they can trace to childhood — and Boston University.
They tell a story about their father showing them “Kramer vs. Kramer” to explain their parents’ divorce, which they said only blurred the lines of the real narrative in their household.
“Couple that with the fact that our dad was constantly filming us with his camcorder, doing the most mundane things ever. There was this idea of ‘What is reflection? Where does the world end and the movie begin?’” Benny said.
In college, they took classes in journalism and film, and became interested in professor Ted Barron’s concept of “pseudo-documentary.”
“He used to program the Harvard Film Archive,” Benny explained. “He taught this class over the summer. . . . It isn’t mockumentary; it’s pseudo-documentary. He was very clear about that. They were fake documentaries in the sense that you were making real movies about fake people, and it was this idea of using realism as a sleight of hand.”
The philosophy informed the Safdies as they made films such as 2014’s “Heaven Knows What,” which starred Arielle Holmes as a heroin addict in New York City. The film was a fictionalized take on Holmes’s own story.
The process was different with Pattinson because it involved the invention of a character with parallels to the real world.
“I think what was most interesting was because of the nature of how he came to us. . . . You have to look at this person and say, ‘OK, what is it?’ You have to mine them for what would create a character. It was a new process for us,” Benny said.
It’s also yielded big results for the duo. The fast-paced movie — which also stars Jennifer Jason Leigh, Barkhad Abdi (“Captain Phillips”), and another star of the Safdies’ “Heaven Knows What,” Buddy Duress — earned a six-minute standing ovation at Cannes. Some critics wrote that Pattinson was a frontrunner for the festival’s best actor prize (it wound up going to Joaquin Phoenix for “You Were Never Really Here”).
The Safdies admit they’ve been hearing from other actors who are now interested in a similar collaboration.
Pattinson said he feels lucky to have worked with them when he did.
“I could really see that people around hadn’t really noticed the extent of their potential when I first met them,” he said. “You can feel that they had — that they still have a lot inside them people haven’t really seen yet.”
Meredith Goldstein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.