It feels a somewhat unlikely fit for Adam Sandler, star of varying quality comedies, to take the lead in the new Safdie Brothers film as a fast-mouthed gem dealer Howard Ratner but it is a perfect piece of casting with Sandler emerging as the infuriatingly reckless chance taker. The film is a nail-biting whirlwind of undermined opportunity, ridiculous risk and missed chances. Head in hands, groans of frustration and elated whoops came from all around the cinema as Howard’s attempt to get the life-changing score he seeks gets increasingly desperate. The stress level of the audience mimics the onscreen action as you simultaneously root for Howard to dig himself out of the mess he has created and grabbing his gaudy lapels shouting ‘for crying out loud cut the crap, stop endangering your family and reconcile with your soon to be ex-wife’ pitch-perfectly played by Idina Menzel.
The film intentionally ratchets up the stress level at every turn with deafening club scenes, Howard’s constant backchat and visuals dappled with the dazzling jewels being sold. The jeopardy of his life looms at all times but it’s an encounter with NBA star Kevin Garnett that takes it to a new level. The potentially kooky premise around a rare black opal being the ultimate good luck charm raises the stakes as Howard reluctantly lends it to Garnett for the East Coast championship game. It is the latest in a series of cataclysmic errors of judgement that have landed Howard owing a lot of money to people you do not want to owe and becomes a consuming addiction to his delusion about his chances to ‘win’. His addiction is absolute and infects everything around him colouring all relationships with an uneasy tension. Josh and Benny Safdie are no stranger to discomforting watching shown in the amoral high-energy Good Time, and this is a brilliant continuation of their skills in creating a world of impossible odds that are totally believable. Howard is no hero, but he is no villain and wanting him to succeed comes from his own enthusiasm for success. His charm is not smooth but it is overwhelming and draws the people around him in until it doesn’t and then it all goes horribly, terribly wrong.
Prepare for seat edge tension and exasperating watching illuminated by superb performances, dashing discomforting visuals and the thrill of possibility.