Uncut Gems is a film I’ve been looking forward to immensely since I heard about it, as The Safdie Brothers, who direct and co-write this, also brought us 2017’s Good Time, starring Robert Pattinson, which was a wonderful movie.
It begins at the Welo Mine in Ethopia, back in autumn 2010 where… uncut gems are discovered following an accident, including a huge black opal, which serial gambler Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler) gets hold of, in 2012, for $100,000 with the intention of selling on for $1m, thus clearly all his endless debts, giving him a nice tidy profit, and helping him continue the life to which he has become accustomed where he’s juggling warring wife Dinah (Idina Menzel) and his affair with co-worker Julia (Julia Fox).
The trouble is, he really is annoying a lot of people with his actions… scratch that… he’s annoying EVERYONE in his life, pretty much, including brother-in-law Arno (Eric Bogosian – Talk Radio, Under Siege 2: Dark Territory), to whom he owes $100,000, and who also has two heavies in tow, in particular Phil (Keith Williams Richards), who we first see slapping Howard across the face when he first confronts him in the store.
This leads to a film that’s just over two hours long, and for which I loved the rollercoaster ride on which we follow him, since he’s royally screwing up his life and we struggle to feel sorry for him, as his bad situation all of his own making. He ignores his kids, and when it comes to thinking he can score a quick buck, he takes this item, he pawns it here, he gets a loan there, and ends up in deep doo-doo by owning everybody money and seemingly never paying anything back.
Hence, can Howard turn things around as the film goes into the third and final act? You’ll only know by watching it, but watching him make bets was excruiating, almost giving me a tightness in my chest on his behalf, because while 2003’s Punch-Drunk Love was a very good film, Adam Sandler pulls off a career best in this. Get him doing more dramas! He’s so good!
YES! Adam Sandler! He’s superb. The first great film of 2020 is here!
But it’s not only just about him. For example, when wanting to auction the gem at one point, he has interest from basketball star Kevin Garnett playing himself, and I hadn’t heard of him before, and I don’t understand basketball, but when it came to a match, even I was gripped!
And there’s also Lakeith Stanfield (Get Out, Death Note) – usually just known as Keith Stanfield – as Demany, the man who sets up potential clients for Howard, and great – sometimes low-key but effective – support from Eric Bogosian, Judd Hirsch, Tilda Swinton, and those already mentioned.
On a technical point, there’s a lot of the camera tracking characters, plus a manic synthesizer score in the background as Howard’s life sprirals out of control. The brilliant sound mixing is particularly highlighted in one scene, for example, which involves just walking along, a punch to the face, some water, and all with some background score!
Uncut Gems hasn’t got the most complex of storylines, but it’s almost consistently brilliant from start to finish, with the occasional little dip as it goes along its rollercoaster ride.
Next stop: The Safdie Brothers really have to get in on directing a blockbuster movie. Stuff Sam Mendes and his terrible Bond movies – let these guys have a crack at it!
Running time: 135 minutes
Release date: January 31st 2020
Format: 2.39:1 (Anamorphic Panavision)
Directors: Josh Safdie, Benny Safdie
Producers: Sebastian Bear-McClard, Oscar Boyson, Eli Bush, Scott Rudin
Screenplay: Josh Safdie, Benny Safdie, Ronald Bronstein
Music: Daniel Lopatin
Howard Ratner: Adam Sandler
Julia: Julia Fox
Dinah Ratner: Idina Menzel
Demany: Lakeith Stanfield
Himself: Kevin Garnett
Arno: Eric Bogosian
Phil: Keith Williams Richards
Gooey: Judd Hirsch
Gary: Mike Francesa
Marcel Ratner: Noa Fisher
Eddie Ratner: Jonathan Aranbayev
Beni Ratner: Jacob Igielski
Lexus: Pom Klementieff
Wayne (High Roller): Wayne Diamond
Himself: The Weeknd (as Abel Tesfaye)
Himself: John Amos
Himself: Ca$h Out
Himself: Trinidad James
Anne ‘Adley’s Auction Manager’: Tilda Swinton (voice)
Celtics staff member: Natasha Lyonne (voice)
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.