A charismatic jeweller named Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler) makes a high-stakes bet that could lead to the windfall of a lifetime. In a precarious high-wire act, he must balance business, family and adversaries on all sides in pursuit of the ultimate win.
Back in 2017, Josh and Benny Safdie released one of the most surprising, intense, and exciting films of that year, Good Time. After watching the movie for the first time, my interest on these two filmmakers was piqued. It was extremely evident while watching the film that they are definitely talented, and I could not wait to see what they would cook up next.
The only reason why I did not see their latest feature, Uncut Gems, earlier than now was because no theatre near me was playing it, and I was worried that I would have to wait a painfully long time to finally get to see it. But alas, today I gratefully got an opportunity to see it and I am so glad that I did, because Uncut Gems is yet another tension-filled thrill-ride from the Safdie brothers, and it is their best work to date.
From the opening frames, Uncut Gems is a movie that is loud and in your ears, but in a good way. Looking back on the film, I genuinely cannot recall a scene anywhere throughout that was completely silent. There is always something audible on screen, whether it’s people yelling over each other, the streets of New York City, or music blaring. For some, this could be an annoyance and an attack on the ears, but for me, it was a blessing. The sound design here is truly remarkable and it is such a shame that this was not nominated for anything at the upcoming Academy Awards, because so many things about this movie are award-worthy.
The most award-worthy element? Adam Sandler as Howard Ratner. Throughout the course of my life, I have seen a countless number of Sandler’s films and I have been here through the good of his career and the bad. I am so happy to say that Uncut Gems contains the greatest Sandler performance of all time. He is one of those actors that I wholeheartedly believe is a better dramatic actor than comedic. He proved himself to be a terrific dramatic actor in 2017’s The Meyerowitz Stories, and I was crossing my heart that I would get to see another serious role from him relatively soon, and here we are.
Ratner feels like such a dangerous and deadly man, yet also somebody that you feel sympathy for. He does a lot of nonsensical things that make you question his logic, but you also feel bad for him, because with every bad choice he makes, his life and his families lives plunge deeper and deeper.
The script from the Safdie brothers and Ronald Bronstein is absolutely astounding. There is never one moment in this film that is wasted, even though it is two hours and fifteen minutes long. Never once was there any down time. Every scene was incredibly entertaining and suspenseful, and the movie became so anxiety inducing that when it ended, it honestly felt relieving. A great alternate title for the movie would be Stress/Anxiety Simulator 2019.
The cinematography by Darius Khondji is extremely stylish and adds to the tone of the film overall. Everything looks absolutely beautiful and I hope Khondji gets more opportunities in the future because he is one director of photography to look out for.
But something I feel is going to be overlooked about Uncut Gems is the costume design. Practically everything Ratner wears in the film is an interesting and fashionable piece of clothing and each outfit of his gets increasingly more crazy. My favorite of his wardrobe has to be the one that you see primarily in the trailers and promotional images. It looks quite Lando Calrissian-esque.
In terms of flaws, the ending was one that, while astonishingly shocking and thrilling, came out of left field and felt like it might have been there for shock value. Don’t get me wrong; the ending is amazing. In fact, the entire third act is something fascinating. But the ending just came out of nowhere and felt like it was there to add some shock value perhaps.
As a whole though, this is certainly one of the greatest movies of 2019 and it is truthfully surprising that the Academy Awards have not nominated this for anything. The two award snubs that I feel were genuinely deserved here were Adam Sandler for Best Actor and Best Costume Design. Virtually every element to this movie was an absolute success and it is a film that will stay in my head for a long time to come.
Uncut Gems is a stress-inducing tension-filled thrill ride that has an extremely powerful script, astounding sound and costume design, and a career-best performance from Adam Sandler.
Overall Grade: A
MPAA Rating: R for pervasive strong language, violence, some sexual content and brief drug use
Cast: Adam Sandler, Lakeith Stanfield, Julia Fox, Kevin Garnett, Idina Menzel, Eric Bogosian
Directed by: Josh Safdie, Benny Safdie
Distributed by: A24
Release Date: December 25, 2019 (United States)
Running Time: 135 minutes