Film & TV

We Are Family: The Safdie Brothers

Benny (left) and Josh (right) Safdie / Photo credits to Maarten de Boer and IMDb

Words by Borte Tsogbadrakh

Rollercoasters make the human body produce terrifying amounts of adrenaline and therefore aren’t recommended for people with heart conditions – I would say the same for a Safdie brothers film. Josh and Benny Safdie are the latest sibling-duo and entertainment powerhouse in Hollywood, sweeping awards from film festivals all around the world. 

Although they’ve only recently started to attract massive attention for their work and made headlines with releases, such as Good Time (2017) and Uncut Gems (2019), Josh and Benny Safdie are certainly no rookies when it comes to filmmaking and storytelling. 

Having to commute between Queens and Manhattan as a result of their parents’ divorce, the two brothers started making films from a young age, focusing on their home city itself and encapsulating all the hustle and bustle that comes with growing up in New York. This is also where their signature style comes in: frames that feel too claustrophobic, fast and jerky editing combined with vibrant neon colour palettes and pulsing electronic soundscapes. All of the above perfectly create this kinetic energy for their films – the type that instantly grips you to the edge of your seat. 

There’s also a very strong sense of realism when it comes to each of their characters, so much so that in Uncut Gems NBA player Kevin Garnett acts as himself, making critics dub the film as an ‘NBA fan’s fever dream’. Besides this meta-acting, there’s one common theme that all Safdie brother protagonists have: real flaws. In all of their films it feels like the characters live on borrowed time, clenching and not letting go of their goal at the expense of others and ultimately- themselves. 

However, this is exactly what makes their characters complex as we watch them get consumed by their own drive and ambition. Many of these protagonists barely have any redeemable qualities, yet we find ourselves rooting for them. This creates the Safdie brothers’ unique take on compassion, to the point where the audience gets swallowed up with the characters. 

Josh and Benny Safdie do all this by controlling every second and every beat of their films; they write; they direct; they edit. As their voice permeates throughout the entire creative process, their films are then entirely infused with their essence.