We’ve known for some time now that Adam Sandler is capable of delivering an exceptional performance. Movies such as Punch Drunk Love and Funny People have provided the proof. But, for whatever reason, we rarely get the chance to see Sandler at his best. Instead, he’s often featured in lowbrow comedies, these days ones that debut directly on Netflix. However, thanks to directors Benny Safide and Josh Safdie, aka the Safdie brothers, we’ve been treated to peak-Sandler in Uncut Gems, which is a truly off-the-rails, totally unique and darkly comedic thriller.
Uncut Gems centers on Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler), a high-strung and magnetic New York City jeweler who is always on the hunt for his next big score. In this case, Howard may well have found his golden ticket in the form of a rare gem that could be worth hundreds of thousands. However, Howard’s gambling problem sees him make a series of high-stakes bets and unnecessary risks that put him in a very precarious situation. Howard must perform a delicate and dangerous balancing act, dealing with his business, family, and the enemies he’s made in order to weasel his way out of it, with the hopes of pulling off his big payday.
The Safdie brothers have crafted something that feels quite unlike anything else released in 2019. For me at least, it’s tough to compare it to anything, really, but I don’t dare stand on ceremony and say it’s unlike anything in the history of cinema. Still, for those craving something original in a landscape dominated by franchises, reboots and superheroes, this could certainly be the answer.
The movie is unrelentingly crazy. It’s dirty yet glitzy. It’s loud and bombastic. People are talking over one another so often, and at times so loudly, that it can be tough to get a grip on certain scenes. But that only adds to the overall atmosphere. This is a chaotic movie about people making, at best, questionable decisions. The Safdie brothers make us feel that chaos on every possible level. The camera work, the set design, the music, the clothes. It all fuels this insane world inhabited by truly idiosyncratic individuals. It’s an admirable commitment to madness.
Everyone on screen is committed to the chaos and that’s the only reason Uncut Gems works, even though, and I mean this as a compliment, it feels like a rocket that’s being held together by duct tape and prayers that could fall apart at any second. Yet, in a sea or great performances from the likes of Idina Menzel, Julia Fox, LaKeith Stanfield and, against all odds, former NBA star Kevin Garnett, Adam Sandler is far and away the shiniest gem of the bunch. This movie was clearly built around Sandler’s energy and performance. The Safdies found a way to get the very best out of him and, as a result, everyone around him has to step up as well.
In the past, some of Adam Sandler’s best work, such as Punch Drunk Love, was a bit more understated. The zany sensibilities of his comedic works like Happy Gilmore were sidelined in favor of something more grounded. What’s so refreshing, and at times jarring, about Sandler’s work as Howard in this movie is that he fully embraces those over-the-top qualities, but presents them in a completely new way to shape a totally compelling and memorable character for the ages. It’s genuinely hard to imagine anyone other than Sandler pulling this off. It’s his part. It’s his movie. Dare I say, this might even be the year he finally earns an Oscar nomination. I’ll be the first to admit Uncut Gems, as a whole, may not be for everyone, but it’s hard to deny the craft on display from Sandler.
In an age where many movie lovers are calling for more originality, yet one where original ideas don’t seem to sell, this movie feels like a minor miracle. It’s noisy. It’s seemingly niche. It’s unhinged. It’s nearly impossible to explain in a way that can fully justify the bizarre experience that it ends up being. I often wrap up reviews by trying to offer some guidelines as to what type of moviegoer might enjoy the picture at hand. In this case, I’m not sure I’ve ever had a more difficult time pinning that down. What I know for sure is that the Safdie brothers have done something truly bonkers here and I can’t help but feel the sheer audacity of this wild ride deserves to be rewarded. Uncut Gems is in theaters now from A24.
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