Ever since the release of Punch-Drunk Love in 2002 critics and fans alike have been waiting for a director to give Adam Sandler something that showed his immense versatility. After a recent string of safe Netflix comedies, Sandler finally has a role he can sink his teeth into. In Uncut Gems, the latest brilliant work from Josh and Benny Safdie (Heaven Knows What), Sandler delivers a tour de force performance in one of the year’s best films.
When shady jeweller Howard Ratner (Sandler) finally receives his shipment of a rare stone embedded with colourful gems from Ethiopia, he feels that he has landed the score of a lifetime. Planning to sell it at upcoming auction, he can practically taste his million-dollar payday. Unfortunately, things begin to unravel when NBA star Kevin Garnett (playing himself) becomes infatuated with the gems while visiting Ratner’s store. Believing that it holds magically powers that will help him in the playoffs, Garnett asks to borrow the item for one night. However, when Garnett fails to return it at the agreed time Ratner’s life begins to spiral out of control.
Owning several bookies money, Ratner must try to maintain a business as usual demeanour will evading the ruthlessly debt collectors. If juggling various debts was not stressful enough, Ratner must also navigate his declining marriage to Dinah (Idina Menzel) and his fragile relationship with his mistress/co-worker Julia (Julia Fox), who secretly lives in his apartment downtown.
Taking the audience from the mines of Egypt to the frantic and gritty downtown streets to the neon glow of clubs and casinos, Uncut Gems is an exhilarating and unforgettable experience. Though a sense a mysticism bookends the films, the Safdie brothers do not delve too deeply into the gems’ powers. Instead, they focus on the dangerous and hilarious chaos that unfolds around it.
A masterful dark comedy, the Safdie brothers craft a film that gleefully has one rooting for the bad guy. Ratner is a despicable cheat in more ways than one; but is also someone who the audience cannot help but love. As his various schemes get more complex, the hole Ratner digs himself gets increasingly deeper. Sandler portrays Ratner’s reckless descent with the perfect blend of arrogance and nervous insecurity. He is the guy who thinks he has all the angles covered; but is really hanging on by a thread out of sheer luck.
Sandler’s performance perfectly fits into the Safdie brother’s natural and edgy style of filmmaking. The brothers patiently construct a narrative that is a riveting and uncomfortable experiences. The murkier the waters Ratner swims in, the harder it is for one to look away. A thrilling and darkly funny film, Uncut Gems is a rare treasure indeed.