In Brief: Uncut Gems is a cut above most and anchoring this exceptional film is an equally exceptional performance from Adam Sandler.
For years I’ve preached that Adam Sandler is a great actor. I’ve attacked him the same number of years for wasting all that talent in dumb comedies where at 50+ he’s still doing fart jokes.
Once in awhile — like here — Sandler gives actual acting a shot. And each time — Punch-Drunk Love, Reign Over Me and Spanglish among them — his performance got raves.
Uncut Gems is directed by Bennie Safdie and Josh Safdie and is written by both Safdies and their co-writing partner Ronald Bronstein. The three men can best be described as doing the kind of films Joel and Ethan Coen did early in their career.
Their movies have a distinct edge.
The Safdies flicks have a raw, hard, and real flavor and are packed with highly flawed, very warped, and somewhat eccentric characters. Plots are complicated and in this case, a bit convoluted. The Safdies (Good Time) are also very fond of real-life, and shocking climaxes.
I’m really fond of movies featuring that kind of plot movement and can’t resist a heavy climax.
Of all of Sandler’s attempts at drama, this one is the best. My former favorite is Reign Over Me. A big part of the reason this is a better performance comes because of the character. The film is set in 2012. Sandler’s Howard Ratner is a jeweler who is battling with a bunch of flaws. He’s not working all that hard at overcoming them but once in awhile he makes an attempt.
Howard is self-absorbed, cruel and — worst of all — impulsive. Dangerously so.
Ratner has a major league gambling problem, lives on his phone, is always a payment behind to whoever he’s scamming at the moment. Predictably, he has a beautiful young mistress. Howard’s wife and daughter can’t stand him, his two sons wonder about him, his employees hate him and the people he does business with suspect him.
Then there’s the Jewish business man that Howard owes a huge sum of money. His goons harass Howard non-stop. That harassment is often violent.
In spite of all those problems, and all of his imperfections, and all of those self-induced struggles, Howard has managed to scored the gem of a lifetime. He thinks it’s worth $1 million and considers it the solution to all of his money problems. Along comes basketball great Kevin Garnett. Playing himself — and not doing too badly — Garnett falls in love with the gem and pushes Howard to sell.
He can’t. It’s scheduled for auction.
However, as a nice gesture, and because he’s a big fan, Howard lets Garnett — then playing with the Boston Celtics — take the gem to a playoff game in Philadelphia. When Garnett fails to return it on time, that propels Howard to even more crises, and the need for more money picked up in the proverbial borrowing from Peter to pay Paul way.
Sandler has the manic energy needed for the character. Get plenty of rest before you see this one. Watching Howard keep all the balls in the air in his money juggling act is exhausting. This is a very difficult role and it also had to be quite taxing on Sandler.
At the same time, he has to be more proud of his effort here than of anything he’s ever done.
The other performance getting accolades is that of newcomer Julia Fox. She’s Julia, Howard’s mistress. Julia is young, a total party animal and one of the balls Howard is constantly juggling. Fox’s performance is interesting. She lands somewhere between a total innocent and a hardcore slut and does it perfectly.
It’s superb work.
Uncut Gems has people talking. Unfortunately, the Hollywood Foreign Press ignored Sandler’s incredible performance — and that of Fox and this movie — when it announced the Golden Globe nominations earlier this month. Since then the buzz has grown and more people are aware of the movie. Hopefully the Academy will correct that when the Oscar nods are handed out early next year.
Uncut Gems isn’t for everyone but for those loving something a bit darker, this uncut gem, with its first-rate performances and outrageous, high-energy story, is a real gem.
Directors: Bennie Safdie, Josh Safdie
Stars: Adam Sandler, Julia Fox, Kevin Garnett, Idina Menzel, LaKeith Stanfield, Eric Bogosian, Keith Williams Richards, Tommy Kominik, Judd Hirsch, The Weekend
Rated R for mature themes, language and violence. Not a film for everyone and this is not your standard, mindless comedy from Adam Sandler. It’s a deep, often violent and very intense drama and it’s the best Adam Sandler has ever been. Give his performance and this performance a 5 on the Friday Flicks with Gary 0 to 5 scale.
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Gary Wolcott has been reviewing movies on radio, television and newspaper since 1990. He believes — and this is an estimate only — that he’s seen something close to 10,000 movies in his lifetime. Gary is a lifelong fan of films and catches a couple of hundred movies a year. He believes movies ought to be seen on the big screen and not on the small screen in your living room or family room. While he loves movies, he also says reviewing film can be a real sacrifice and that he sees many movies so you don’t have to.
He is one of KXL 101.1 FM’s film critics and joined the news staff in 2014. Gary is also the film critic for Tri-Cities, Washington’s Tri-City Herald.