(director/writer: Benny Safdie/Josh Safdie; screenwriter: Ronald Bronstein; cinematographer: Darius Khondji; editors: Ronald Bronstein/Benny Safdie; music: Daniel Lopatin; cast: Adam Sandler (Howard Ratner), Judd Hirsch (Gooey), Eric Bogosian (Arno), Julia Fox (Julia), LaKeith Stanfield (Demany), Kevin Garnett (Himself), The Weeknd (Himself), Idina Menzel (Dinah), Keith Williams Richards (Phil), Mike Francesa (Anthony), Jonathan Aranbayev (Eddie), Noa Fisher (Marcel), Paloma Elsesser (Kat); Runtime: 135; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Scott Rudin, Eli Bush, Sebatian Bear, McClard; A24; 2019)
“Impacted with a certain NYC chutzpah that keeps it always hopping with never ending angles, slimy characters and dirty incidents.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Indie filmmakers Benny Safdie & Josh Safdie (“Heaven Knows What”/”Good Time”) present arguably their best film yet, an exciting urban crime thriller with loopy characters who would make Damon Runyon come out of his grave to give nicknames to. It’s co-written by the creative brothers of dark humor films and Ronald Bronstein, and impacted with a certain NYC chutzpah that keeps it always hopping with never ending angles, slimy characters and dirty incidents.
We follow the screw-up Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler) around for a week in 2012. The middle-aged hustler is a charismatic but obnoxious, fast-talking, brash and compulsive gambler, who works as a New York City jeweler located in the Diamond District. He maintains a loveless marriage in New Jersey with his coarse wife Dinah (Idina Menzel). Always looking to bet on a sporting event and knowing how to get around town to avoid bookies he owes big money to, he thrives on his lowlife lifestyle and living in his chaotic setting. He believes he will make a big score when he receives a package from Ethiopia of a gleaming chunk of opal-encrusted rock and sells it to the NBA Boston Celtics star Kevin Garnett, a customer in his jewelry shop. Garnett is hypnotized by it and trades it for his championship ring, while Howard arranges to put the opal on the auction block and have Garnett buy it back. Trouble is Howard has big debts with the bookies and to avoid a beating or worse, he pawns Garnett’s ring in a pawnshop and uses the money to make bets that he believes will square things with all parties.
When the stone goes missing, Howard searches for it among various unreliable characters: such as the scary goon debt collector Arno (Eric Bogosian). He also must deal with his unhappy wife wanting to dump him, and his brassy and coarse much younger counter clerk mistress Julia (Julia Fox) whom he pays the rent for her Manhattan apartment and who might have actually fallen in love with him.
Sandler gives his best performance to date, and moves up the ladder from playing stupid and klutzy comic characters like in The Waterboy to more interesting and complex characters in this gem.
REVIEWED ON 12/8/2019 GRADE: B+ https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/