Tag Archives: Benny Safdie

Blood, Sweat and Fears

Stars at Noon

by George Wolf

Just this past summer, Claire Denis explored psychosexual politics with the moving Both Sides of the Blade. Now, she has sex, lies and global politics on her mind, as Stars at Noon examines sweaty intimacies and slippery alliances.

Adapting Denis Johnson’s novel with co-writers Andrew Litvack and Léa Mysius, Denis keeps the Central American setting but shifts the timeline from 1984 to nearly present day. The threat of COVID-19 adds a relatable layer of suspicion to every interaction, in a part of the world where suspicious minds are easy to find.

Margaret Qualley is sensational as Trish, a young woman staying in a low-rent Nicaraguan hotel while working plenty of angles. There isn’t much to back up her claim to be a journalist (despite a late night call to magazine editor John C. Reilly in a wild cameo), and other details about her life are kept brief and ambiguous.

Trish seems to benefit from at least a couple friends in high places, while new friend Daniel (Joe Alwyn delivering some perfectly smoldering mysteriousness) could benefit from at least one person he can trust.

Daniel says he’s in town from London as an oil company consultant, but Trish is quick to let him know he’s become “a person of interest” with some powerful locals.

But how can this silly American girl know what’s what?

Qualley crafts Trish’s disarming persona beautifully, with a performance that shows a new depth to her talent. While the film’s dialog is often precise and enticing, Qualley makes sure Trish’s non-verbal ques do plenty of talking as well. That gives authenticity to Daniel’s seduction, and the dangerous complications that arise when another mysterious stranger (Benny Safdie) makes Trish a tempting offer.

The humidity of the region feels palpable, laying down a subtle air of oppression that pairs nicely with the more surface level dirty dealings while another wonderful score from Denis favorite Tindersticks works its magic.

Denis is in no rush here, and the narrative can meander through some awkward juggling of tones. But the journey of these characters and their moral posturing is always engaging, and Stars at Noon serves a hypnotic cocktail of intrigue mixed with lust, feminine power and cutthroat colonialism.

Brother’s Keeper

Good Time

by Hope Madden

Regardless of the film’s title, Connie Nikas (Robert Pattinson) does not appear to be having a Good Time.

Connie is trying to keep the system away from his mentally impaired brother Nick (Benny Safdie, who also co-writes and co-directs). He uses what means he has, none of which are legal.

After a botched bank robbery sees the brothers separated and Nick incarcerated, Connie engages in ever riskier behavior in a desperate attempt to save his brother.

Safdie, alongside his real brother and filmmaking partner Josh, once again explores an urban underbelly. The two have proven with films like their 2014 festival favorite Heaven Knows What that they can tell a deeply human story set on the fringe of society.

Good Time is a bit more high energy than Heaven Knows What, but once again the Safdies create a world that’s simultaneously alien and authentic. It’s hard to believe people live like this, and yet every moment of Connie’s increasingly erratic evening rings true. Nuts, but true.

Pattinson delivers his strongest performance yet. His glittering vampire days long behind him, he’s shown versatility in recent projects including Cosmopolis, The Rover and Maps to the Stars. Here he balances a seedy survival instinct with heart-wrenching loyalty and tenderness.

Everything Connie touches, he poisons. In Pattinson’s hands, he’s righteous enough to believe in his own cause, even when it means convincing himself that he’s protecting someone – his brother, a teenage girl, another lowlife looking for a score – who’d be better off without him.

Benny Safdie impresses in front of the camera as well as behind. His understated performance shows no sign of artificiality, and his skill as a filmmaker has never shined more brightly.

His gift for pacing that matches the hustle – the constant shifting, shuffling and scheming needed for survival – keeps Good Time both exhilarating and exhausting.

The film showcases the kind of desperation that fueled many a New York indie of the Seventies, Midnight Cowboy among them. The urgency of a quick con that could lead to freedom but will undoubtedly end in tragedy seems the only kind of choice Connie ever makes.

It’s a grim film full of bruised people, but it never loses hope entirely.

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