Uncut Gems [Review]
Updated: Jan 24
Film: Uncut Gems Starring: Adam Sandler, Julia Fox, Lakeith Stanfield, Kevin Garnett, Idina Menzel, Eric Bogosian & Mike Francesa. Distribution: A24 Films | Netflix Score By: Daniel Lopatin Directed By: Josh & Benny Safdie Review By: Wade Swift Rating: 4 Xs out of 5 Xs What is an uncut gem? It's something that on the outside, is rough and rigid and may (to the naked eye) be deemed worthless or without value. However, once you dig underneath it, past it's imperfections and flaws, you can find something truly special. That uncut gem is our lead character who, may be a bit rough around the edges and most certainly has his fair share of issues, but deep down, at his core has a good heart. We see this parallel displayed in the beginning of the film with the Safdie's providing us with their best 2001: A Space Odyssey impression, jokingly connecting a rare black Ethiopian opal to our main characters colon, similarly to how Kubrick symbolically compared a newborn baby to the universe in the 1968 film (2001: A Space Odyssey). Uncut Gems is 10 years in the making, with directors Josh & Benny Safdie first approaching Adam Sandler about the role of Howard in 2010 and again in 2016. Both instances resulted in Sandler turning down the role. But the Safdie Brothers were so committed to Sandler being their lead that they continued to let the script sit on the shelf in the hope that he would at some point come to his senses and accept the role. Well he did, after the release of their 2017 film (Good Time) starring Robert Pattinson caught Sandler's eye, he eventually reached out to them about wanting to do the role. The film begins in the welo opal mines of northern Ethiopia, where we see our first uncut gem in the form of a rare black opal. The opal eventually finds it's way into the hands of it's metaphysical counterpart Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler) an eccentric jewelery merchant/con man who develops a sort of gollum like fixation towards the opal. Ratner also has a similar obsession with sports, more specifically gambling on sports. You might even go as far as to call it an addiction, one that has our antihero continuously in one bind after another, always having to look over his shoulder. A 50 something year old Gambling addict leading a life of chaos and disarray, scouring the underbelly of NY's diamond district in search of one get out of jail free card after another. Now, we all go through life trying to be the best people we can be, honest, dependable and transparent. We do that with the hope that those around us are striving for the same moral fiber as us. Unfortunately, that often isn't the case. Howard Ratner is the perfect example of the latter. The Safdies do excellent job spotlighting Howard's black sheep identity in life, often eluding to his many estranged personal relationships with people closest to him including his wife, his employees, his girlfriend, and close relatives. None more estranged though than with his brother in law, Arno (Eric Bogosian) a loan shark who Howard owes a pretty hefty sum of $100,000. That debt drives Howard to make a series of questionable decisions in an attempt to clear it, that leaves viewers smack dab in the middle of his intense thrill ride. Through many different points in this film Howard has the walls closing in on him, every time he's forced to make quick and often irrational decisions on a dime in an attempt to pull himself out of the whole he's dug. In a 24 hour period he goes from making deals with Kevin Garnett, to being tied up naked in his own trunk, to fighting with Canadian singer/songwriter The Weeknd. The film carries a heavy presence of hip-hop culture, which the Safdie brothers are no stranger to having directed several music videos within the genre including JAY-Z's 2017 single (Marcy Me). The addition of this rich cultural influence really adds another elemental energy to the film. Outside of the first time cameos for Kevin Garnett and The Weeknd the cast actually has a few other first time actors (Keith Williams Richards) who does a very solid job playing Arno's ill tempered muscle. Another first timer who's quite possibly my MVP outside of Adam Sandler is (Julia Fox) who delivers an excellent performance in her acting debut as Howard's much younger girlfriend/employee Julia, her and Sandlers chemistry jumps right off the screen and really brings a much needed dynamic. The entire supporting cast really fills in the blanks well and helps make this movie run on all cylinders. Now, typically there's a tremendous amount of predictability in these "everything that can go wrong will go wrong" films, but not with this one. The Safdie brothers do a brilliant job keeping you on your toes by keeping things relatively unpredictable, bringing us seamlessly layered chaos with impeccable pace and timing. The entire film can be best described as one big rollercoaster ride, each decision, each moment and each scene feeling one click closer to the top and it's inevitable drop. It eventually takes on a tone very similar to Carlito's Way, this sort of ticking time bomb being clocked by a sort of silent unspoken countdown. You almost know how it's going to end, but you're love for the character has you still hoping for the best. Also the score composed by (Daniel Lopatin) really amplifies every moment, every emotion and confict of our antihero truly externalizing the spirit of Howard Ratner. Sandler delivers a truly captivating performance so much so you will inevitably end up feeling for Howard, becoming emotionally invested in his plight, rooting for him, genuinely hoping he'll somehow pull through all the madness. Howard Ratner on the surface is an absolutely hateable character, but Sandler executes with charm and charisma that really adds a powerful layer to the character. The is also the first Adam Sandler movie I've ever seen where I legitimately forgot that it was Adam Sandler. He truly does an outstanding job transforming himself into this outlandishly charismatic character, one who exudes a genuine ignorance to the outside world and the world around him. He's completely engulfed with his rampid gambling addiction and overwhelming amount of debt he's built. However, even at it's worst, even when things are most chaotic Ratner's reckless abandon is done with a certain level of charm that makes it nearly impossible not to be rooting for him, no matter how difficult he makes it, and he does make it difficult. Now this isn't his first rodeo in the drama sector, Sandler has proven his acting chops and emotional range time and time again with films like (Big Daddy, Punch Drunk Love and The Meyerowitz Stories) however I believe this to be Adam Sandler's magnum opus performance, one that deserves all of the praise and accolades it will and should undoubtedly receive. Overall tho, Uncut Gems is a well packaged thrill ride, one that will most certainly keep you on the edge of your seat. I truly enjoy these types of old school cinematic experiences and I urge you to cherish them while they still exist. No all star cast, no CGI, no overuse of pyrotechnics, just pure adrenaline, and a lot of heart. I highly recommend catching this instant classic while it's still in theaters.