The other day Dame Judi and I were gossiping, as we always do when we get together, about all the actors who missed out on Oscar nominations for performances that in our opinion were worth a little golden statue many times over. From Bjork in lars Von Trier’s ‘Dancer in the Dark’ for example, (Judi’s favourite musical, who would have thought?), to Paul Giamatti in everything he has ever done. Well, blow me down with a feather! Adam Sandler has only gone and put himself at the top of my list. If you had told me my film of the year, (I know it’s only April, shush), would have Adam Sandler on screen for over two hours, I would have passed you the smelling salts. What a magnificent performance! And from one of my least favourite actors, who would have thought? Hats off to the Safdie brothers for giving him an incredible script, followed by nuanced direction and a hornet’s nest of an ensemble cast to play off. Picture smashed Gargoyles put back together misshapenly. Sandler’s assistant Roman for example, (picture a pit-bull in Paola licking petrol of a prickly pear), was having a cigarette in the street when he was approached by the casting director begging him to be in the film. Took a bit of persuading by all accounts, so my friends across the pond tell me. And keep your eyes peeled for an aged Judd Hirsch, who is always sublime, however small his role.
As much as I loved this film, and I did, believe me, viewing comes with a warning: Do Not Watch After Having Three Double Espressos….I nearly had a coronary. Remember the buttock clenching finale of “Goodfella’s” Ray Liotta out of his mind on cocaine, multi-tasking family duties whilst hiding from the FBI all the time asking Michael to “KEEP STIRRING THE SAUCE!”. Well, imagine that for just over two hours. Sandler is on screen throughout as Howard, an adrenaline-fuelled New York diamond dealer with crippling gambling debts. He is trying to pull off the deal of his life in order to get everyone off his back. He does this whilst bouncing through the New York jewellery district on 47th street like a four-year-old that has eaten his body weight in sherbet dib dabs, batting off assailants demanding repayment throughout. At times successfully, at others, less so. Not since my nephew Tarquin appeared on stage for the first time as an Ugly Sister in Cinderella has a child’s school performance been so nerve-wracking, is all I will say.
Sandler and the Safdie brothers appear to be doffing their collective caps at times to Al Pacino. There were subtle aromas of ‘Dog Day Afternoon’ in the mix, especially performance-wise from Sandler. You haven’t seen it?! Look it up immediately, I insist. Pacino’s finest performance in my eyes and I love everything he has done. I digress, forgive me, back to Sandler. His performance fizzes with nervous energy like someone has lit the touch-paper on a stick of dynamite, handed it to you, and you are waiting for it explode at any second. It is not a particularly easy film to watch, I grant you. Some may find the pace, and the constant cross-talking and multi-tasking difficult to deal with. Per esempio; do not get comfy on a sofa with a certain best friend who found ‘Finding Nemo’ distressing is all I will say on the matter. I had to rush straight to the pantry to pour dear Jemima a small sweet sherry as a way of apology as the credits rolled.
A little aside here on the score for all you music lovers out there. Daniel Lopatin creates a second lead character in my eyes. An ethereal, brooding, unnerving presence swimming beneath Sandler, which seems to surface and swim back down into the depths unexpectedly. Moody 1970’s synthesisers strike a discord, and somehow portray the hidden effects of his behaviour on those around him. Beautiful and haunting simultaneously, no mean feat.
The true genius of this film though is the way in which it manages to make you sympathise with someone who lies constantly, steals, cheats and does everything he can to squeeze people dry of money. His behaviour is abhorrent, no-one is spared, not even those closest to him. But you want him to pull it off. You want him to win. What is it with us Brits and loving an underdog? I shan’t spoil it for you and say whether or not he finds his particular pot of gold, but I will say that in my eyes the film has the perfect ending. I usually pride myself on correctly guessing how I believe a film will end. This time, however, I was wrong. Gloriously and spectacularly wrong. Well done you Adam Sandler. Well done you Safdie Brothers. And well done you Netflix (and Martin Scorsese) for producing it. This is the first time in years I have stood up at the end of a film shouting Bravo! Bravo! Bravo! Poor Jemima seemed equally jubilant at the film’s finale. But maybe for different reasons?
God Save the Queen. Lord bless you all. Same time next week fellow film lovers.