Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.5.
USA, 2019. Elara Pictures, IAC Films, Scott Rudin Productions, Sikelia Productions. Screenplay by Ronald Bronstein, Josh Safdie, Benny Safdie. Cinematography by Darius Khondji. Produced by Sebastian Bear-McClard, Oscar Boyson, Eli Bush, Scott Rudin. Music by Daniel Lopatin. Production Design by Sam Lisenco. Costume Design by Miyako Bellizzi. Film Editing by Ronald Bronstein, Benny Safdie. Gotham Awards 2019. Independent Spirit Awards 2019. National Board of Review Awards 2019. New York Film Critics Awards 2019. Toronto International Film Festival 2019. Washington Film Critics Awards 2019.
Adam Sandler plunges his manic juvenile energy into the grimy world of low lives with high stakes that the Safdie Brothers do so well. He plays a New York City jeweler whose addiction to betting on basketball games has him constantly shuffling assets to keep up with payments, though the occasional appearance of strong-armed men pushing him around means he’s not doing so well at maintaining his debts. When he finally receives a package in the mail that he believes is his deliverance, he can’t resist but show it off when Boston Celtics superstar Kevin Garnett (playing himself) enters his store. The item, a piece of rock containing raw opals retrieved from a mine in Ethiopia, dazzles Garnett so much that he insists on borrowing it for a night and Sandler, overwhelmed by celebrity dazzle, agrees to let him. In his effort to get it back in time for the auction that will solve all his financial problems, Sandler must also contend with the various other schemes he’s got going (he has a tendency to pawn jewelry that doesn’t belong to him) while staying ahead of his collectors (including a terrifying Eric Bogosian and his goons). Making a mess of his personal life is his fraught relationship with his estranged wife (Idina Menzel) who has forced him to leave their Long Island mansion and take up residence in his city apartment with his employee and mistress (Julia Fox), but hasn’t told their kids about their split yet. You can feel the doomsday clock ticking throughout this incredibly tense movie, one of fate or possibly doom, as the Safdies superbly maintain a level of beautifully conducted chaos in scene after scene that threatens to wear you out but for the occasional moments of quiet that help maintain your sanity. The tacky early-nineties aesthetic combined with a gorgeous video game-like score gives the almost science-fiction atmosphere a pulse and a dazzling energy, a more impressive feat than the lead performance by Sandler, who doesn’t quite bring anything to the role emotionally that we haven’t seen before (he gets louder whenever it’s required of him but never really gives a sense of his hopeless madness). He does keep time with the directors’ narrative mania, though, while breakout star Fox delivers the film’s best performance as the most surprising character in the piece, one whose morality goes in an unpredictable direction and gives the film its very satisfying conclusion.