Erik’s review published on Letterboxd:
“This is how I win.”
Nobody captures transactional traumas and destructive compulsive behaviors quite like the Safdies.
Sure this is their most Jewish film to date, and while the film is steeped in religiosity and cultural signifiers, the only thing being zealously worshiped here is capital. An insatiable, all-consuming, biblical lust for leverage via symbolic status and wealth accumulation.
Howard Ratner’s G-d is a compulsion-fueled chase to acquire so much that he’ll never be allowed to simplify his own chaos. One deal, on transaction, one “win” is never enough. The self-imposed mayhem and disorder simply must ripple across every encounter and relationship, across time and space: His exploitation of black Jews in Ethiopian mines to retrieve a cosmically-significant stone in order to resolve his own small-world gambling woes and an attempt to convince his wife not to divorce him after Pesach are treated with the same sort of eye-level stakes. Sorry Howard, but you’re the Pharaoh here.
Sandler has never and will never be better than he is here. His clenched-jaw state of panic, aged confidence, melancholic eyes, and bursts of rage swirl in a maelstrom like the colors of the Ethiopian opal. His climatic monologue to Garnett in the jewelry store office plays like both a riveting locker room speech and a eulogy. Rattled me deep in my tummy. When Howard’s brother-in-law (the great Eric Bogosian, aka the Bernie-esque senator from SUCCESSION) finally realizes Howard has an inescapably sexual, sadomasochistic need to “always be hustling” and cracks a forlorn smile (his first and only smile in the movie), I started crying. Just devastating shit.
Anyways, the Safdie’s sound design alone will crawl under your skin — with its textured anxiety of overlapping conversations and discordant foreground music — and leave you breathless. I won’t be able to shake this movie anytime soon.
Neither will you.