Recommendation: The energy and pace of Uncut Gems is infectious while the once-in-a-lifetime performance from Adam Sandler is undeniable. This film looks and feels like nothing else. 8.5/10.
IMDB Synopsis: A charismatic New York City jeweler always on the lookout for the next big score, makes a series of high-stakes bets that could lead to the windfall of a lifetime. Howard must perform a precarious high-wire act, balancing business, family, and encroaching adversaries on all sides, in his relentless pursuit of the ultimate win.
Uncut Gems is a ride. A visceral, flashy, tense ride through New York’s Diamond District and straight into the audience’s psyche. Directors Josh Safdie and Benny Safdie have followed up their 2017 hit Good Time with another film that spits energy and personality onto the screen, and doesn’t take its foot off the gas for two hours. Set to an 80s gritty synth soundtrack and bolstered by an incredible performance from Adam Sandler as Howard Ratner—a nervous, likable, hustler of a jeweler with big time debts and even bigger dreams—Uncut Gems is one of the most daring and original films of 2019.
Set during the NBA playoffs in 2012, Howard has constructed a web of lies, deals, and loans to secure a rare black opal gemstone in search of a million dollar payday at auction. In search of the ultimate win (read: a big payday), Howard leverages everything to keep his dream alive. He loans and pawns jewelry that aren’t his to bankroll complex parlay bets, he (somewhat unsuccessfully) dodges debt collector goons, he gets involved with then-aging NBA superstar Kevin Garnett (who is great), and he brawls with The Weeknd (who has a fun cameo). Howard is the ultimate shyster, albeit with a heart of gold, playing the only game he knows.
The film doesn’t work without Adam Sandler as Howard. Sure, Garnett is very good, LaKeith Stanfield is always up to task, newcomer Julia Fox (as Howard’s millennial girlfriend) shines, and it’s a treat to see Mike Francesca as Howard’s bookie. But the man-child energy that Sandler has been bringing for 20-plus years is refined into something wholly new here. He plays Howard the dirtbag credibility needed for the Diamond District but imbues him with awkward dad humor, horny old man energy, and the focus of a man on a mission. From scene-to-scene, Sandler believably oscillates between optimism, exhaustion, anger, arrogance, incredulity, and sleaze, bringing complexity and raw energy that a Safdie film demands. It’s the role of a lifetime, and Sandler stands up and delivers in a big way.
While it’s not overly preachy, Uncut Gems is a thinly disguised comp for people and the lens by which they are viewed. Too often people are relegated to what’s on the surface. Class, religion, appearance, job, age… all taken at face value, discounting what’s beneath the surface. For better or worse, people are more than their titles. The film doesn’t tell the audience how to feel about Howard, but certainly he’s the perfect manifestation of this idea. A Jewish, Diamond District sleaze with a failing marriage and dreams of hitting it big. He has so much more to offer. Or maybe he doesn’t.
MVP: The film orbits around Sandler’s performance.. He’ll campaign hard for that little gold statue.
Highlights: A blinged out Furby will certainly spawn merch. Newcomer Julia Fox radiates. LaKeith Stanfield disappears into yet another great performance.
Director: Josh Safdie and Benny Safdie
Studio: A24 // Original release date: December 13, 2019