"Uncut Gems" (2019)- Movie Review

Written and Directed by Josh and Benny Safdie
Co-written by Ronald Bronstein
Starring Adam Sandler, Lakeith Stanfield and Kevin Garnett

‘A Captivating Crime Thriller’

Few actors in the world have had a career as controversial as Adam Sandler. Ever since he rose to stardom in the 1990’s, Sandler has proven to be a comedic genius. His films have always offered entertainment-value, and garnered a huge fan following over time. However, lately Sandler’s career has gone downhill. With their goofy characters, painful jokes and mindless entertainment, his films have become a chore to sit through. With the exception of a few notable gems such as 2002’s “Punch-Drunk Love”, Sandler has become an unbearable actor. At the age of 53, he desperately needs a dramatic role that could turn his career around.

Now, Sandler is back on the big-screen and proves that he hasn’t lost his dramatic flair in his latest film “Uncut Gems”. An intense, gripping and nerve-wracking thriller, it marks a sensational comeback for the comedian. With their latest feature, the Safdie brothers have crafted a captivating film about a compulsive gambler. Packed with haunting cinematography, riveting storytelling and powerful performances from an outstanding cast, it offers the prime example of an effective crime thriller. Although “Uncut Gems” is undeniably engrossing, it is not a film without flaws. It is slightly long, and builds to a shocking conclusion that may leave viewers infuriated. That being said, it offers exhilarating entertainment that fans of the Safdie brothers won’t be able to resist.

Set in New York City’s Diamond District, “Uncut Gems” tells the story of a compulsive gambler. Adam Sandler stars in the lead role as Howard Ratner, a shady diamond dealer that sells jewelry to high-profile clients. Howard’s severe gambling addiction has left his family and career in shambles, putting him in a dangerous position of debt. However, when Howard discovers a unique Ethiopian gem, he takes desperate measures to sell it to a basketball player (Kevin Garnett). As Howard makes a series of high-stakes bets, his life begins to spiral out of control.

It’s a captivating crime thriller that is expertly crafted by the Safdie brothers. Ever since they burst onto the scene with “Daddy Longlegs” in 2009, writers/directors Josh and Benny Safdie have proven to be a formidable filmmaking duo. Their films are intense crime thrillers that provoke emotional responses from viewers. With “Uncut Gems”, however, the Safdie brothers take their first step into gambling territory. It’s the filmmakers’ first feature that focuses on the lives of jewelers in New York City. It is not easy to put viewers into the delusional mindset of a diamond dealer, but the filmmakers pull it off seamlessly. Using gorgeous cinematography, the Safdie brothers transport viewers into the stressful life of a gambler. From intimate close-ups to frenetic tracking shots, the cinematography keeps viewers immersed in the high-stakes plot. The Safdie brothers excel at creating tension in the life of a gems dealer, and their latest feature is worth watching on the big-screen for this reason alone.

If spending time with a detestable diamond dealer doesn’t sound fun, though, there are still plenty of other reasons to see “Uncut Gems”. The film is extremely well-written, and offers an insightful look at New York City’s bustling Diamond District. The Safdie brothers’ screenplay is superb and arguably the main highlight of the movie. Filled with colorful characters, witty dialogue and suspenseful situations, the script elevates the movie to another level. When making movies on criminals, screenwriters often tend to dehumanize the characters. Criminals are often depicted as remorseless villains with no redeeming qualities. Thankfully, though, the Safdie brothers avoid these pitfalls with “Uncut Gems”. For instance, Howard is a selfish gambler that makes terrible decisions. However, over the course of the film he earns the viewer’s sympathy. Through an engaging screenplay, the Safdie brothers keep viewers engrossed in the life of an anxious gambling addict.

It is hard to not admire the astonishing performances from the cast. Every star gets the chance to shine and leave a lasting impression, but the film is mainly a showcase for its lead.

Adam Sandler delivers one of the best performances of his career as Howard Ratner. Sandler excels at playing comical characters with exuberant personas. With “Uncut Gems”, however, he takes on the most dramatic role of his career thus far. This is the actor unlike you’ve ever seen him before: intense, charismatic and commanding in his first ever gambler role. It is not easy to make viewers care about a compulsive gambler, but Sandler pulls it off effortlessly. With riveting expressions, he conveys the anxiety, fear and desperation of a gambling addict. It’s a phenomenal performance that proves that Sandler can be a formidable actor when he’s given the right material to work with.

The supporting cast is spectacular and also worthy of recognition. Lakeith Stanfield is superb and brings palpable tension to the movie as an intimidating gems dealer. Julia Fox is fantastic and brings shades of humanity to Howard’s girlfriend Julia. And finally, it is hard to not mention Kevin Garnett. As an exaggerated version of himself, the former basketball player makes a seamless transition to the big-screen.

Although “Uncut Gems” is undeniably an exhilarating crime thriller, ultimately it is not a flawless film. At nearly two and a half hours, it is slightly long and suffers from a lengthy running-time. Assisted by Daniel Lopatin’s electrifying score, the Safdie brothers keep the film moving at an engrossing pace during the first hour. However, once the film enters its bloody climax, it starts to lose steam and test the viewer’s patience. Moreover, the Safdie brothers go a little overboard with the ending. The filmmakers’ decision to end the movie with the death of a major character is bold and unexpected, but it doesn’t entirely work. Instead of bringing the story to a satisfying conclusion, it simply leaves viewers in a state of shock. Due to its unconventional ending, “Uncut Gems” is one of those movies that may not appeal to mainstream audiences.

Nevertheless, fans of the Safdie brothers’ previous films will definitely enjoy “Uncut Gems” and so will movie-goers seeking exciting entertainment. An engrossing crime thriller, it proves that Adam Sandler hasn’t lost the ability to enthrall audiences. At a time when Hollywood seems to hate Adam Sandler, it’s a sparkling gem of a movie that reminds audiences why the actor is worthy of appreciation.

3.5/5 stars

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