Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed in this review are solely those of Marlon Wallace and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of WBOC.
This is the fourth feature from film-making brothers Josh and Benny Safdie. I haven’t seen all of them, but this film feels like it’s made in the same style as Good Time (2017), Heaven Knows What (2015) and Daddy Longlegs (2010). All of the films by the Safdie brothers focus on a troubled person, either an unstable parent, a drug addict or a bank robber. Usually, the Safdie films take place in a compressed period of time, no more than a week or so, sometimes a couple of days, and they usually are about those troubled persons trying to get out of trouble or sometimes indulging in their vices. The Safdie’s will depict their stories in a frenetic and manic way. There is an energy to their films where they feel constantly on the move. There is a pace to it that never slows down. Even in scenes where the protagonist actually does stop or sits, there’s always a ticking time-bomb feeling in those scenes as well. It seems designed to make the Safdie films more nerve-wracking or anxious for the audience. It’s good to keep the audience engaged and not willing to look away from the screen.
Adam Sandler (The Meyerowitz Stories and Punch-Drunk Love) stars as Howard Ratner, a guy who owns his own jewelry store in the Diamond District, which is on the west side of Manhattan. His principal problem is that he’s a gambling addict. He specifically makes sports bets and right now he’s into betting on basketball. Unfortunately, he’s run into serious debt and owes money to some men. One of whom is a Jewish relative, but these men definitely are of the gangster variety. Howard is a slick and fast-talking guy who is able to keep the gangsters at bay. He currently has a scheme to make a lot of money. He found out about a mine in Ethiopia that has discovered some precious gemstones that might be worth a lot of money, even up to seven-figures. He manages to get a piece of rock that contains some of these precious stones called “opal.” He hopes to auction it and make a lot of cash.
Things get complicated when he meets Kevin Garnett sometime after 2010 but before 2013 when Kevin was still playing for the Boston Celtics. Garnett is a real-life NBA player and Garnett is here playing himself, a fictionalized version of himself. Kevin is brought to Howard’s store by a mutual friend named Demany, played by LaKeith Stanfield (Knives Out and Sorry to Bother You) who is a bit of a hustler himself in that he seems to be involved with selling fake watches and other things.
It’s not sure how he knows Kevin, but Demany brings Kevin to Howard, ostensibly for a watch or some similar jewelry. Yet, Howard shows Kevin the opal and enchants Kevin so much that Kevin wants the opal for himself. The rest of the film becomes a tug-of-war between Howard and Kevin over possession of the opal.
Julia Fox in her feature debut plays Julia, a young woman who works at Howard’s store. She helps him sell jewelry. She also helps with his bets and gambling deals. She’s introduced though as none of those things. She’s introduced as his mistress. She stays at Howard’s apartment that is separate from the home that he has with his wife. Her youth is very much apparent. She’s beautiful and likes to flaunt it. She hangs out at nightclubs with pop stars with whom she flirts. She does love Howard or really, really cares about him. She’s so much younger than him and his role is almost fatherly, yet he does have sex with her. It makes it a weird tug-of-war in their relationship as well.
It gets to a point where Howard is yelling or struggling with all the women in his life, including his daughter for whom he’s absent. Most of it stems from his gambling addiction, which leads him to take more and more risks. The backlash from which causes his downfall, mainly because he’s dealing with gangsters who have had enough of him. Watching Sandler be constantly on the move trying to deal with his crumbling house of cards is entertaining for sure and watching him have these wild emotional swings that the Safdie brothers handle reasonably well probably makes this the second best Sandler performance after Punch-Drunk Love.
Rated R for pervasive strong language, violence, some sexual content and brief drug use.
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 15 mins.