Uncut Gems Adam Sandler

Year: 2019
Director(s): Josh and Benny Safdie
Writer(s): Josh and Benny Safdie
Region of Origin: USA
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
Rating: R
Color, 135 mins

Synopsis: A New York City jeweler must perform a precarious high-wire act, balancing business, family, and encroaching adversaries on all sides. (Source)

Gambling or taking risks to some extent is a part of daily life. Some of us don’t risk enough, and others thrive or hunger for the thrill of uncertainty. The latter idea is what informs the Safdie’s Uncut Gems. Just like their previous efforts, this is another story about addiction. Rather than substances, however, it focuses on a compulsive, habitual thirst to throw it all on the line. Needless to say, the Safdie’s have delivered a propulsive thriller that never lets up and paints a picture of someone who’s incapable of standing still. The complexities and self-destructive nature of this strength and weakness is as horrifying as it is addicting. And with Adam Sandler taking the lead, there isn’t a second we want to take our eyes off the screen. 

In NYC’s diamond district, Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler) owns and operates a modest jewelry store. Mostly selling watches, rings, blinged out furbies, etc, he keeps afloat while operating a number of less-than-reputable side hustles. In truth, everything Howard earns, he throws back onto the streets, placing sports bets and the like around town, chasing after the ultimate win. On top of this, his latest acquisition is an uncut opal from an Ethiopian Jewish mining company. Though the gem is set to earn him a killing at an upcoming auction, he can’t help but using it to boost his image. Suddenly, he’s coerced into loaning the stone to the Boston Celtics’ Kevin Garnett (playing himself), who has an odd, superstitious bond with the opal. Howard trades the opal for one of Garnett’s championship rings, pawns that, and sets into motion a series of bets that will end up costing him more than he ever imagined. 

The best thing I can say about the film, is that it literally feels like a shot of adrenaline to the heart. Once we’re acquainted with Howard and his vice-like risks, the film throws him out of one dire situation, and into another. The Safdie’s uncanny sense of realism makes us feel as if we’re watching something we shouldn’t be seeing. This is both the empowerment and disintegration of a man at 24 frames per second. We truly feel the ecstasy of Howard’s wins, but also the utter devastation when these fleeting moments are gone too soon. Like any object speeding as fast as a bullet, Howard and the film’s plot are bound to stop somewhere. As fast and hard as it moves, it’s impact is just as monumental. It all leads to a brutally profound jolt that we aren’t prepared for. 

Uncut Gems Adam Sandler Lakeith Steinfeld Kevin Garnett

Inextricable to the Safdie’s penchant for naturalism, are the film’s dynamite performances. Adam Sandler is in peak form. As Howard, he’s created a somewhat meek schmuck who has everyone fooled, especially himself. Sandler weaves Howard in and out of each sticky situation like a blunt chainsaw, leaving a mess that he continually drowns in. And yet, Howard is compulsively watchable. He’s oddly charming despite being someone we kinda despise. It’s a definite tightrope of a performance, and Sandler pulls it off in the best way. Aside, Lakeith Steinfeld builds the world out with the charisma we’ve come to expect from him. He comes and goes but his presence is felt when he isn’t there. Perhaps the film’s MVP, however, is Kevin Garnett himself. Used sparingly and smartly, Garnett’s almost cartoonish obsession with his good luck charm is funny and strange. He creates an unexpected parallel to Sandler. His story unfolds alongside Howard’s, and converges with a special dose of mysticism. Julia Fox owns the screen as Julia. She’s one of the few characters in the film able to keep up with Howard’s insanity, echoing Sandler and pushing him even further. Idina Menzel is fascinating as Dinah, Howard’s wife. She’s also used very minimally, but her presence is powerful, commanding each scene she’s in.

It’s saying something that Uncut Gems is the Safdie’s most accessible and unhinged. After building a career on utterly realistic depictions of addiction, their latest dials everything to near unbearable levels. If anything, this film cements them as propulsive storytellers unlike any other. It’s a searing look at getting low to get high, broadly looking at the wake that its characters leave as their decisions affect everyone around them in damning waves of fate and circumstance. This thing feels like a thrill ride, but at its heart, confronts the fragilities that both strengthen and destroy us from the inside out.