Scene Analysis | Evading Expectations: The Use of Close-Ups in “Good Time”

Without the pomp of a grandiose opening shot, we are placed dead center in the fray of film Good Time, directed by brothers Josh and Benny Safdie. Stark fluorescent light floods the frame as a psychiatrist clinically interrogates Nick (played by Benny Safdie.) Nick is mentally disabled, and before he can make sense of the pain triggered by the psychiatrist’s pointed questions, his brother Connie (played by Robert Pattinson) bursts through the door.

The characters whirl in and out of focus as they engage in a heated back and forth. And all the while they remain stubbornly situated in close up, heightening the emotion found in their character tics and urgency. As the psychiatrist Peter scolds Connie for disrupting his medical practice, he shoves his hand in front of the camera, just as a celebrity would do to an intruding paparazzi. The unchained camera paired with loosely blocked character movement gives this film, concordant with the style of many previous Safdie brothers works, a distinct cinema vérité quality. Indeed, the film solidifies its place in the thriller genre due, in large part, to the subliminal suspense that the camerawork enacts (shot by serial Safdie brothers collaborator and cinematographer Sean Price Williams.) The camera seems to follow the actors with a split-second delay making the audience unable to anticipate where Connie and Nick will go next.

The camerawork of the opening shot persists throughout the entire film, never coming between Pattinson and Safdie, but rather pairing them together, teamed through kinship and subtle framing devices against their world. The Safdie brothers use longer lenses to capture the details in the close-ups that are visible in the garish yellow lighting of the opening shot. The color of the first scene begins the gradual downward spiral of the rest of this fright night adventure where the colorscape and textures grow deeper and darker—a palate progression that mirrors the unraveling of the plot of the film.

And before we can even orient ourselves in this dreary and browning urban office space sonically layered with overlapping dialogue and the faintest buzz and whir of the score by contemporary synth master? Oneohtrix Point Never, we are stripped from the scene as Connie yanks his brother out of the psychiatrist’s interrogation room. The opening shot marks the first of many blunt confrontations in the film that never overstay their welcome. The Safdie brothers emphasize the “nowness” of the film, an almost indecipherable platitude that is justified by the way Good Time is shot. Just like the way a fight transpires in real life, the climax of action comes and goes before we can distinguish it as such. As the characters evade the reductive grasp of the viewer’s expectations, the viewer, in turn, finds the magic of Good Time.


Chase Sui Wonders is studying Film Production in her final undergraduate year at Harvard College. She writes for the Harvard Lampoon and makes short films.
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