There is no lesson or point to Uncut Gems. The film moves fast and doesn’t give the audience time to think.
Howard Ratner, played by Adam Sandler, makes high stake gambles while goons are after him for money that he owes them. Ratner’s personal life is in shambles as well. His wife played by Idina Menzel hates him, and let’s not get started on his girlfriend problems. Ratner doesn’t make smart decisions; he is ruled by his emotions and each mistake hurts more than the next.
The film is loud. It’s obnoxious. People talk and yell over each other. It induces anxiety for 135 minutes. There are no positive or happy feelings about what you just watched as you exit the theater. I left with a sense of dread and anxiety—a problem that only a beer and a good conversation can solve.
And to be honest, I loved every single minute of it.
This is the second Safdie brothers’ film that I’ve watched; the first was their 2017 film, Good Time, which starred Robert Pattinson. I felt the same after watching it, but I also left with a sense of wanting more. It’s 101-minute run time wasn’t enough. But in Uncut Gems I got the fix I didn’t receive after watching Good Time. The Safdie brothers were able to take their anxiety-inducing film techniques and storytelling to the next level. And it’s a movie, that according to them, took ten years to make. They made several other films throughout, including Daddy Long Legs and Heaven Can Wait, and Uncut Gems is the pinnacle of their hard work and unique style.
They wrote this movie with Sandler in mind ten years ago, and it’s apparent because he gives a career-defining performance in this film.
Unlike most people who critique movies, I love the Sandler Happy Madison comedy machine. I love watching silly comedy movies and I go into them knowing that it was created with the one intention of making people laugh.
I am also a fan of the art house films that Sandler has done since Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch-Drunk Love. Anderson was called crazy by critics for casting Sandler at the time, and once the film premiered, those same critics ate their words. Sandler could act.
He also starred in another dramatic/independent films like The Meyeworitz Stories (2017), Reign Over Me (2007), and Spanglish (2004), but Uncut Gems is his best work. It’s the kind of performance that makes you forget who Sandler is, because he becomes the character. It helped that he didn’t look like Sandler, and instead resembled someone different. There is a mole on his cheek. There is a goatee. He wears big fake teeth. And the voice isn’t Sandler. This character doesn’t walk like Sandler. This is Howard Ratner.
He is the focus of this movie and appears on screen for 95% or more of the film. This isn’t easy for any actor to do.
Despite my love for the film and its critical acclaim—currently sitting at a 92% on Rotten Tomatoes—audiences don’t feel the same way. There are as many one-star reviews as there are five-star reviews for the movie on some rating sites, and it sits at 52% on Rotten Tomatoes for the audience score.
Making this a divisive film.
But what does one expect when the filmmakers go out of their way to give viewers anxiety without providing them with any time to think through anything?
It’s not a film for everyone, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad film. To me, this is the kind of film that we will remember for a long time—especially if Sandler wins an Oscar, which would be the biggest upset since the Mud Dogs won the Bourbon Bowl in The Waterboy.
To makes things better, Sandler isn’t the only actor that shines in this film. Kevin Garnett is now a world-class thespian, along with being one of the best basketball players of all time. He plays himself in the film but that doesn’t discount from his performance. Lakeith Stanfield shines as well, as he does in every one of his movies. I was surprised to find out that this was Fox’s first acting gig ever because she sold it—not surprising that the Safdie brothers wrote the character for her.
The power of this movie is the feeling it provides; it’s not the story—though the story is well written. It’s the anxiety as you grip the edge of your seat. It’s not an easy one to follow, but you feel something. And every person, even the people who hated it felt it. Some of the complaints come from the anxiety—they couldn’t take it. One audience review claimed that movies shouldn’t give people that feeling. Of course, that’s a ridiculous belief, because fear is a horrible feeling but there are still movies created to invoke fear. And the Safdie brothers create films to induce anxiety. And they will continue to make films like this.