Directors: Josh Safdie, Benny Safdie
Starring: Adam Sandler, Julia Fox, Eric Bogosian, LaKeith Stanfield, Kevin Garnett, Judd Hirsch, Idina Menzel
Words – Christian Abbott
When venturing into the Safdie Brother’s work, the filmmakers behind Uncut Gems, it can be a disorientating experience for the uninitiated. But don’t let that fool you, their seemingly shotgun approach to filmmaking is an illusion. From the frantic camera work, pulsating techno scores and overlapping dialogue, their films are meticulous and detailed. Placing Adam Sandler in the eye of this cinematic tornado, the path of destruction that follows is glorious.
Writing, directing and even acting for over a decade now, Josh and Benny Safdie have built an esoteric filmography that is distinctly their own. Across documentaries, short films and theatrical, they provide narrative experiences with a gut-punch ferocity.
Now they have drawn their focus on the world of diamond dealing, debt collecting and a man that just can’t catch a break. The latter is familiar territory, their previous film Good Time, starring Robert Pattinson and Benny Safdie himself, tracked a thief’s night in hell trying to free his brother from prison, from mistake to mistake. That rollercoaster of bad choices can be found right here, with Adam Sandler’s Howard Ratner, consistently betting against the men he owns money to, and continually regretting it.
From the very opening it is clear that the line between the naturalistic and the heightened-reality of the Safdie’s would be present here. Going from scene to scene across Manhattan while the stakes just continue to build is relentless. There will often be three of more conversations happening at once, all circling Sandler as the sequence of events quickly descend upon him like a ton of bricks.
The throbbing hues of neon blues, reds and greens permeate every frame, with the persistent beat of Daniel Lopatin’s (Oneohtrix Point Never) synth sounds. It all sounds like an intense meltdown, and it is, but the way the Safdie’s manage to create a flowing and even poetic plot from all this is astounding. The balancing act of bringing this grounded sense of reality together with the cranked-up visuals is often attempted but never realised to the heights here.
Yet, it is Sandler that carries this burden on his shoulders, the one constant in a film of continual change. Often over-looked as a lowbrow comedy actor, he shows us once again what a real talent he is. His on-brand rage is present here, but re-purposed, weaponised and deadly. He is nothing less of a joy to watch and an absolute triumph.
This is perhaps the Safdie’s most accessible film yet, and for those dipping their toes, now is the time to jump into their manic world(s). Often nail-biting in its intensity and shocking in its delivery, it all builds toward a conclusion that will stay with you long after staggering out of the cinema.