- Emma Simmonds
- 6 January 2020
The Safdie brothers and Adam Sandler join forces to exhilarating and stressful effect
Benny and Josh Safdie follow their breakout movie Good Time with a similarly surging, sometimes farcically funny 80s-infused thriller which forces us into the most uncomfortable of NYC fast lanes, whilst boasting an intriguingly mystical, almost otherworldly undercurrent. Adam Sandler is sensationally cast as smarmily charming compulsive gambler Howard Ratner; caught in a cycle of taking punt after reckless punt, Howard's luck, it seems, is about to run out.
Frenetically juggling his work, family and extra-marital commitments with bets and competing cons, this disreputable jeweller is a natural born hustler, who seemingly can't help himself. His wife Dinah (Idina Menzel), from whom he is secretly separated, can no longer bear his bullshit, but the pair maintain appearances for the sake of their three kids. Howard has become romantically entangled with his glamorous, flighty employee Julia (Julia Fox) and is in hock to his loan shark brother-in-law Arno (a hangdog Eric Bogosian, clearly sick to the back teeth of his errant relation). LaKeith Stanfield is Howard's similarly slippery associate Demany.
We follow Howard as the collection men descend and he bets it all on a chunk of uncut black opal, a magical and mesmeric object which he has had imported from Ethiopia and which he believes to be worth over $1million. Into his small Diamond District jewellery store, and his already overcrowded life, walks superstitious basketball star Kevin Garnett, who takes a shine to the opal and, inexplicably, is allowed to borrow it.
Darius Khondji's kinetic camerawork takes us on a breakneck journey into what it's like to live your life governed by nothing but gut instinct, and he captures the anxiety, pace and thrall of the big city. As well as Garnett, there's an appearance from musician The Weeknd as Howard's ambitious small-timer rubs shoulders with the rich and famous, while a hilarious vocal cameo from Tilda Swinton is the icing on the cake. The Safdies are so great at making movies that it's hard not to recommend spending a couple of hours in this shifty bastard's shoes. It's relentlessly stressful but as engrossing as hell.
Selected release from Fri 10 Jan. Available to watch on Netflix from Fri 31 Jan.