Director: Benny and Josh Safdie
Writer(s): Ronald Bronstein, Benny, and Josh Safdie
Cast: Adam Sandler, Kevin Garnett, Lakeith Stanfield
Synopsis: A jeweler in New York’s diamond district tries to make the biggest score of his life, while constantly having to pay off people he owes.
First off I want to thank A24 for inviting me to this screener and allowing me to see this film!
I was not going to write a full review of this film, but the more I think about this film, and the more I get into the depth and complexities of this film, I cannot stop thinking about what this film brings to the table. This film is riddled in Jewish stereotypes and folklore, and the more I get into the depth of this film the more I love this film.
Benny and Josh Safdie have created a new genre that I want to be the first to coin “anxiedramedy”, as this film takes the anxious nature of Good Time and ups it to a million. From the very beginning of the film, you are trapped and held in an anxiety-filled situation that you want nothing more than to get out of. It really is a 2-hour panic attack, and I hated being there, but I absolutely loved that it was able to pull that reaction from me. Benny and Josh Safdie wonderfully encapsulate the audience in a claustrophobic state throughout the runtime of the film. This film will not be for everyone, and if you are prone to anxious situations I would stay as far away from this film as humanly possible.
If you do manage to brace the absolute madness of what this film brings to the table you will be in for a real treat. The Safdie Brothers managed to create a film based around the 2012 Boston Celtics playoff series against the Philadelphia 76ers, and they got me to care more about the game than I ever would have. The film is based around gambling and the greed of the protagonist Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler). We follow Ratner throughout a period of his life where he gets his breaks but uses them to make the worst of decisions. Adam Sandler is so good in this role because he does not try to be anything he is not. This character serves as almost a culmination of every character he has played throughout his career.
Luckily for Sandler, he met two people that have just as much of a crazy part of their brain to give Sandler the role of his life. Instead of making him something he isn’t, the Safdie Brothers almost double down on what Adam Sandler is. Hidden behind a fake smile and a bumbling voice, we can tell how unsure Howard is in any decision he makes. Overtaken by greed, Howard is never content with what he has and is always longing for more. That thought is what gets Howard into so many poor situations throughout the film. Even after getting in and out of constant bad situations, Howard never knows when to stop. This could be played up with the Jewish stereotype of greed, as the Jewish aspects of this film are extremely relevant throughout the movie. This film does not shy away from those stereotypes, but leans into them and uses them to tell the story along the way.
Howard throughout the film hides behind a fake smile of a broken man. He doesn’t have any real friends, his wife resents him, and his daughter is embarrassed by him. The only two people he has in his life is his girlfriend Julia (Julia Fox) and his son, who is the only one who really respects him. He does not have much going for him except an opal he has purchased, and he even manages to lose that as well. Throughout the film, we see how Howard continuously makes bad decisions and instead of learning from his mistakes and making himself a better person, he continues to fall deeper into the pit of greed and wants more and more. The only time he ever wants the right things is after his world is basically broken down. Even when he loses the respect of his son, he never loses his smile. But, this time it isn’t a smile to hide the pain he is feeling, it is there in a narcissistic way of proving to himself he can do this. He was an addict, and he was never going to stop. Even when he finally was resented by everyone around him, that was not enough to make him stop. Gambling was his drug and it was the only thing that made him feel good and alive. However, just like any addict that cannot recover, he relapsed.
His performance hits an absolute high point with his scene, which was from the trailer partially, where he tells Kevin Garnett “This is how I win”. That scene was the best acting of Sandler’s life, and it was one of the best-acted scenes of the year. If he gets an Oscar nomination, which I am hoping he does, this will be the scene they use. One of the fastest moving films of the year, but simultaneously also one of the longest feeling films of the year. It really was like having a panic attack, and for anyone who has had a panic attack, you know how much you want to get out of that situation and take a deep breath. The way this film evoked that for me was mesmerizing. I felt like I was never allowed to breath throughout the runtime of this film and spent the next hour after the film having to catch my breath.
Final: Benny and Josh Safdie’s “anxiedramedy” film is a 2-hour long panic attack. You want to get out of this film, but the claustrophobic nature of this film keeps you almost tied down leaving you breathless. Adam Sandler gives the performance of his life in a role that does not force him to go away from the heavy eccentrics of his past characters but actually doubles down on them. This film will not be for everyone, and I get that, but I respect the hell out of what Benny and Josh have done for cinema and hope they continue down this path.
Current Tomato Score: 95%
Current Metacritic: 91
Current IMDb: 8/10
Jacob is a film critic and co-founder of the Music City Drive-In. He is a member of the Music City Film Critics’ Association and specializes in the awards season. You can find him on Twitter @Tberry57.