UNCUT GEMS

Oh, Adam Sandler. He may just be one of the most frustrating talents working in Hollywood. He’s seems like a genuinely nice guy, but he just shows up in so much garbage. A lot of the garbage is produced by him and stars his friends like Kevin James, Chris Rock, and his usual entourage, so it’s clear that these are the movies he wants to make. The frustrating part? The guy is clearly talented, and he doesn’t just want to deliver the usual goods for his fan base, but he’s also lazy. It’s a lot easier to make a simple comedy film where you sit around and banter with your friends, but when you see someone with such talent letting it go to waste, it’s hard to not wish for them to do more. 
 
Taking place in 2012, Uncut Gems follows jewelry store owner Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler), a man up into ears in gambling debt that he owes to some very dangerous people. Looking for his next big score, Howard thinks he finds it in a 24-karat opal he receives from Ethiopia. Believing it to be worth at least $1 million, he plans to auction it off, but it doesn’t take long for more problems to start happening. NBA star Kevin Garnett (Himself) walks into his store and checks out the opal. Enamored by its beauty, Garnett believes it carries mystical powers that will help him perform better at games. After some smooth talking, Howard lets Garnett borrow the opal for a night, but Garnett isn’t too keen on giving it back. Knowing he doesn’t have much time left, Howard scrambles to get the opal back from Garnett, keep his marriage and family life afloat, and convince the criminals he’s indebted to give him just a bit more time. 
 
Just like casual moviegoers didn’t take Robert Pattinson seriously as an actor before Good Time, the Safdie Brothers decided to do the same thing with Adam Sandler. Now, Sandler has received acclaim for his performances before, with films like Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch Drunk Love, but he really hasn’t challenged himself as an actor since 2007’s Reign Over Me. Even with those performances, though, you still always knew it was Sandler. Here, he becomes a whole new person, making his performance as Howard Ratner completely different from anything he’s done before, and he’s mesmerizing. He’s present in almost every scene and just commands them all with so much force. He’s such a sleazy jerk, but he also has this charisma that makes him kind of hard to hate. It just seems like if you hung out with Howard, even for 5 minutes, there would never be a dull moment. Sandler has shown some excellent dramatic chops before, but he really is a revelation here. If this is truly what he’s capable of, then we need more of it. He truly is astonishing. It doesn’t stop him from being funny, though, with some hilarious dialogue and dark comedy. “Jews and colon cancer. What’s up with that? I thought we were the chosen people.”
 
As Howard gets deeper and deeper into trouble, his attitude never changes. He’s still charismatic and confident in his abilities to scheme people and get what he wants. There’s one scene where he completely breaks down in front of his girlfriend Julia (Julia Fox), showing him completely vulnerable. Their relationship is hilariously toxic and Julia clearly seems so desperate for love that she’ll put up with any abuse. Howard has a toxic relationship with practically every character, especially his wife Dinah (Idina Menzel), who knows about his infidelity and dangerous lifestyle, yet they still stay together for their kids. A lot of the side characters are kind of just stereotypes and underdeveloped, but all necessary to Howard’s character and the greater story. The story starts off with Howard already indebted to some dangerous people, so he’s already in too deep. He’s relying on the opal to net him more than $1 million and pay off his debts, which makes him letting Kevin Garnett borrow it the biggest mistake of his life. Howard is basically in the position of you letting a friend borrow money and them not paying it back, except this time it’s millions of dollars that’s owed to some unhinged criminals. He gets beat up, harassed, stripped down to his skivvies and stuffed in a trunk, and takes a whole bunch of other abuse, physical and verbal. 
 
There is a lot of yelling in this movie. I bet the dialogue in the screenplay was written in all caps, because I’d say 95% of the dialogue is people just screaming at each other. The screaming is all justified, though, as the stakes are high for each character, and none of them handle stress well. The Safdie’s use a lot of close-up, shaky camerawork, even during standard dialogue scenes, which gives everything a rushed, urgent feeling. You also get Oneohtrix Point Never’s score, which is just important to the film’s atmosphere here as it was to Good Time. It’s high intensity from the first frame, which opens in an Ethiopian diamond mine, with a miner being carried out on a stretcher missing a leg. It’s a simple, yet stark, contrast the Safdie Brothers make between the poor miners who get these diamonds and the rich, privileged people who are able to buy them and sell them. This theme isn’t anything new to the diamond industry discussion, and it’s not the main theme here, but it’s necessary in setting up the scumminess of the world Howard inhabits. 
 
The intensity ramps up when the plot gets going and if you told me a movie about sports gambling would be this intense, I wouldn’t have believed you. I don’t care about sports in the slightest, but I have some very, very light knowledge of some teams and players. When I saw Kevin Garnett pop up (I didn’t even know it was him until they said his name) and the plot turns into Howard betting on an NBA game, I was ready to lose interest, but never did. There’s a manic energy the entire time that’s incredibly stress inducing, and the constant close ups and erratic camera just heightened the feeling. You feel like a fly on the wall watching these people screaming and being at each other’s throats, and mostly because it just feels so real. The Safdie Brothers didn’t use a whole lot of trained actors here, but I was never taken out by any of their performances. Kevin Garnett was especially impressive, with an incredibly natural performance, which may have been easy as he’s playing himself. Everyone is just so perfectly cast, especially the criminals, who seem like real down and dirty people. Just like Good Time, they represent the ugliness of New York City that still exists beyond its gorgeous veneer, basically an allegory to the diamonds Howard sells. These beautiful pieces of Earth come from an ugly place, we don’t care about any of that because, “Ooooh, shiny.” 
 
Just like Good Time, Uncut Gems, certainly isn’t a film for everybody. It’s a high-tension, anxiety inducing movie with people constantly screaming and assaulting each other, but if you want non-stop thrills, you get it here. Even more, if you just love superb acting, then look no further than here. Sandler threatened to make a movie “so terrible” if he doesn’t get nominated for an Academy Awards, and I sincerely hope he does. Not just because he deserves it, but because it’s time for him to stop making garbage and become the actor he’s truly meant to be. The only question is, who’s the next actor the Safdie’s will take to make audiences take them seriously?My bet is Seth Rogen. 
 
Please, let it be Seth Rogen. 
 
9.5/10 

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